How to support Columbus' indie retailers amid the looming book shortage

Supply chain issues have forced a slowdown in book production that could create a shortage of certain titles this year

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Books for sale at Two Dollar Radio

The supply chain issues that have impacted myriad industries across the United States are also having an effect on the publishing business. Currently, a paper shortage has led to a slowdown in book production, which, combined with issues ranging from staff shortages in warehouses to massive backups in shipping ports, is likely to lead to a shortage of certain big titles this year, particularly in the run-up to the holiday season.

“I’ve been selling books in some capacity for 10 years or so, and this is the first time it’s gotten so bad that we’ve actually had to reach out to customers daily to make sure everyone knows what is happening,” said Gary Lovely, manager of Prologue Bookshop in the Short North.

While the pandemic created some shortages for booksellers in 2020, Lovely said the disruption is more acute this year owing to factors throughout the supply chain. As a result, book publishers have warned that there might be longer lag times to reprint best-selling titles. “So with a big book, like the book Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen did together, Renegades, once that initial print run is [sold], they’re not going to be able to reprint it right away,” Lovely said. “If you preorder now, you’ll get a copy, but if you’re late and it runs out, there may not be any more until next year.”

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Eric Obenauf of Two Dollar Radio has felt this impact on the publishing end of the business, most recently when he learned that the printer would not be able to meet the expected deadline for I Will Die in a Foreign Land, the highly anticipated debut from author Kalani Pickhart scheduled to hit shelves on Oct. 19.

“As a publisher, we’ve known this was coming for a while,” Obenauf said. “Even in the spring our printers were telling us, ‘You’ll need to give us a longer lead time than you have historically,’ and so we made a point of having all of our print dates scheduled for the rest of the year in the spring. But what’s tricky is, if a title does well for you and you need to get more copies, what might have taken three or four weeks could take eight to 10 weeks. Restocking the supply train is what could be tricky.”

There are a handful of things that consumers can do to help Columbus’ independent booksellers through these challenging months, however. Here are just a few examples:

Place your preorders now

If you’re looking to purchase one of the fall’s major titles, whether as a gift or for yourself, place a preorder now to ensure that you’re able to get the book. Prologue, for example, is already taking orders for titles such as Renegades, which releases Oct. 26. “If you’re going to buy something coming out this year, preorder it early and get it out of the way,” Lovely said. “That’s only going to help you.” Most local retailers update their websites with forthcoming titles frequently, or you can call or visit the shop to ask about particular releases.

Be patient

If you absolutely need a particular title that is not currently in the shop, try to be understanding of the situation. “We’re all going through the same thing,” Lovely said. “My shop (Prologue) is small, and the Book Loft is huge, but they’re going to have the same issues we are. We’re all trying to communicate back and forth so that we know what’s going on and we can communicate that to customers so that there are no surprises.”

Be open-minded

Indie booksellers exist, in part, to help expand the world of literature for readers. So if a particular title isn’t in stock, embrace it as an opportunity to learn about an author or title you might not have otherwise. “Engage in conversation with the bookseller and let them help you choose that perfect gift or book rather than being dead-set on one title,” Obenauf said. “If there’s one thing booksellers like to do, it’s to talk about and recommend books.” 

“We all have books on the shelf, and we’re all happy to recommend things that might not have been published this year, some of which are books you would probably really want,” Lovely said. “There’s this capitalistic nature of needing to have the newest thing as soon as it comes out, and with something like [these shortages] happening, it can make the issue so much worse.”

Avoid Amazon

While this one might seem obvious, making your purchases from local shops rather than the mass retailer not only benefits Columbus businesses, it can also ensure that you get the title you need when you need it. “You can come into my store, you can go into the Book Loft, and we’re going to be able to tell you how many books have been printed and when it’s going to get here,” Lovely said. “If you’re shopping online with a retail giant, it’s going to be harder to get that information and to gauge when you order something whether it’s going to show up on time, or at all.”