Effect of COVID-19 on publishing industry
May 15, 2020 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Specifically, will there be a delay in paperback editions of hardcover books coming out?

I mainly ask because I have my eye on a specific book. If it helps, the hardcover came out at the beginning of March, it's the first novel by the author, and the book has received a large amount of national press.

Though while we're at it, I'd be nterested to know a bit about why or why not and whether this trend should be expected throughout the pandemic (is it driven by shortages of paper, etc.), since I expect to be doing a lot of reading. Thanks!
posted by unannihilated to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Generally, paperbacks come out a year after hardcovers so this one may or may not be effected by covid. I certainly wouldn't expect a paperback this year.

A couple things effect going into paperback:
-hardcover sales (don't want to cannibalize them!)
-hardcover stock (don't want to make it worthless! we're less likely to print paperbacks if there are thousands of hardcovers in the warehouse)
-timing (usually 1 year for fiction, more for non-)
-author's next book (paperback will time to hardcover regardless of above)

This is kid's world, though I'm pretty sure adult is same at my publisher at least.

Things pandemic will effect: Closed bookstores means much lower print runs as chains like b+n take fewer or 0 copies. We don't have space in the warehouse for books that aren't en route to customers. (Customers are bookstores, not individual consumers) In terms of supply chain for printing and binding the books, paperbacks are easier and cheaper than hardcovers so that's less of an issue.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 7:00 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


It depends on the publisher and if their operations have been delayed, where this books is being printed and if the operations of the printer have been delayed, and what kind of distribution service they use and if those operations have been delayed.
posted by HMSSM at 7:01 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I had an update yesterday from Unbound, the publishers of a book I have crowd-funded:

The current coronavirus crisis and the impact it is having on supply chains and the general trading environment has forced us to review our publishing programme. In line with almost all other publishers, large and small, we have had to make some difficult decisions about publication dates.

We have reluctantly decided to move the publication date for Kitten on a Fatberg a few months further into the future than we had originally planned. The planned publication date for the book is now 24 June 2021.

Market uncertainty and the increasing likelihood of supply chain difficulties as lockdown continues necessitates this if we are to be sure of delivering as promised to our authors, and to you and everyone else who has supported the book.


So that's a bit cryptic about why, but suggests the issue may be paper availability, or distributing the book.
posted by paduasoy at 2:28 AM on May 16


Can't speak to US supply chain, but while European and Chinese supply chains have not been as dramatically affected as you might think, the closure of bookstores has lead to a lot of changes in release schedules. So it could well shift, especially if it's by a major author.
posted by ominous_paws at 3:55 AM on May 16


This is impossible to predict at this point.

As noted above, generally, paperbacks come out a year after the hardcover, but also generally only if sales of the hardcover are strong and there is not still a lot of stock left (sometimes that stock will be turned into paperbacks, called "strip and bind", but low sales of the hardcover are also an indication that it is not worth the effort/cost to create and market a paperback).

Also as noted, there are supply chain issues (China is a major printer of large runs, especially of four color books), there have been ongoing paper shortages for a couple of years now, and there is likely to be significant disruption to the distribution end of the supply chain. Not all bookstores are going to open back up. Libraries may institute all sorts of different rules regarding lending going forward. Amazon is likely to take more market share, but has not been handling book sales well overall.

Current pub dates are mostly moving due to lack of sales outlets and publicity opportunities. That may continue into the fall, and even into the spring. Publishers are more likely to announce changes to new frontlist titles this far out, though, and stay mum on the topic of the paperback release of an existing hardcover.

If you wanted to scout for it, your best chance would be to check the publisher's catalog on Edelweiss in the early fall - that's when most publishers finalize their spring lists, have their sales conferences, and post their catalogs for sales reps and bookstores.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:54 PM on May 16


Yeah, people have it right for the most part. I didn’t have any freelance editing work till just recently because so many of my clients print in China. So from end of December till end of February nothing was moving. Even the one that prints in BC had supply issues.

But I do notice that my main fiction publisher is pushing a bunch of titles through on the fast track because I think they recognize that a) people need entertainment right now and b) they should get ahead of any more market changes before everything really goes kerblooey.

I think you can expect that things are continuing to happen but it’s really strange new territory for everyone.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:49 PM on May 16


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