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Last Modified: October 22, 2021
Shop Local: Why to Buy Book Gifts Early This Year
Why to Buy Book Gifts Early This Year

October is the new December when it comes to buying books as holiday gifts this year. So if you already know that you have to get the new Sharon Butala essay collection for your mother-in-law, make sure to snap it up from your local independent bookstore sooner rather than later.

Why do you suddenly need to be so on the ball? The book industry in Alberta and across North America is experiencing unprecedented delays in getting books from the printer to the bookstore. 

Shelf Life Books in Calgary recently posted a plea to their customers on their Facebook page:

“This season we’re expecting heavy shipping and reprint delays as a result of the global supply chain crisis. Everyone is doing their utmost, but between paper shortages, freight issues, border delays, overwhelmed print presses, and understaffed warehouses, it’s going to be an interesting year. This means that if titles go out of stock, we may be unable to get more copies in until after the holiday season. We want you to get the books you want, so order early if you can! Preorder! Preorder! Preorder!”

And Owl’s Nest Books had a similar message:

“As the Christmas season approaches we are expecting significant supply chain delays. We are encouraging everyone to shop early for gifts this year.”

So what is causing these delays? 

Back-ups at the printersMany publishers delayed their entire publishing programs when Covid-19 first hit, bookstores were shuttered, and uncertainty abounded. But then stores re-opened and moved to online models. Book sales skyrocketed with so many people spending their time at home reading. Printers couldn’t keep up with producing the books that were delayed, on top of a whole new season or two’s worth of books…a huge backlog formed that still hasn’t been cleared.

Paper shortages—There is currently a high demand for cardboard, which is used by online retailers such as Amazon for packaging (often to excess). To meet this demand, pulp mills are making cardboard instead of paper; this is causing paper shortages, leading to even longer wait times at printers.

Shipping delaysMany books that are highly expensive to print in North America (such as photo books and children’s books) are printed in Asia and across the world. Books are too heavy and too expensive to ship by air, so are sent by boat across the ocean in shipping containers. Right now there are shipping container shortages and delays, and delivery driver shortages once the books do land on our continent, which also affect books that are printed locally. 

Not to mention understaffed warehouses, border delays, COVID outbreaks, extreme weather delays, and more!

All of these supply-chain issues, combined with higher-than-normal book sales mean that books are arriving at stores later than planned. When stock runs out, a publisher would normally hit go on a reprint, but pre-Christmas reprint dates are harder and harder to come by.

And what can you do about it?

Overwhelmingly the advice from publishers to bookstores has been to order early. So the advice to readers is the same. Buy those books now. And if the book you want isn’t out yet, pre-order it from your local independent bookstore so that you can ensure that you’ll get one of those precious copies. 

Independent bookstores, like so many retailers, are experiencing other challenges right now, including restrictions on how many people can shop in their store at one time. The best way to support them this holiday season and make sure you get those coveted book gifts is to talk to your local store about your book wish list as early as possiblewe all know they will move mountains to get you the books that you want. And, it goes without saying, be kind if it simply isn’t possible.

Shop Local is a column all about supporting local, independent booksellers in Alberta.