BISG Reveals First "Supply Chain Monitor" Results

Posted By: Brian F. O'Leary Committees,

Since 2017, BISG has fielded an annual survey of the supply chain, often reporting the results at our annual meeting of members. With so much of our industry in flux, we recently launched a new survey, dubbed our "supply chain monitor", that will collect information every two months and report the results to both members and the book business as a whole. The survey opened earlier in June. Results of the first survey are being released today.

Nearly 100 responses were received from publishers (70%), manufacturers (13%), distributors and wholesalers (6%), service providers (6%), retailers (4%) and libraries (1%). The mix is somewhat typical for a BISG survey, although manufacturing responses took a higher share than in the past, perhaps reflecting challenges of the current supply chain.

Asked to describe their current concerns with the supply chain (multiple responses allowed), 77% listed sourcing (of print, paper, or something else). At 72%, increased expenses/inflation came in second, while freight & shipping (65%) and inventory planning (56%) were third and fourth. Other responses were labor (32%), adapting to new business models (20%), and information exchange (14%). We received 11 other responses, most of them tied to missed publication dates.

The survey followed that question by asking respondents to name their most significant concern. Again, sourcing (46%) led the way, this time by a distance over inflation (14%), freight and shipping (10%) and inventory (10%). Labor (4%), information exchange (4%), and adapting to new business models (2%) rounded out the list. Here, nine other responses covered issues that included variable publication dates, scheduling, and "book miles" - the distance a book travels from production to end consumer.

Asked to describe what they are seeing in the current market (multiple responses allowed), those responding cited "making printing/stocking decisions earlier" (73%), following by split print runs to manage capacity or balance delivery times (51%0. About 45% noted printing or ordering more frequently. Printing more (35%) and printing less (29%) came in close to one another, while printing or ordering less frequently (15%) rounded out the list. A dozen responses outside of these choices noted searches for new sources (consistent with earlier answers) and cancellation or partial shipment of orders, particularly to libraries.

Responses to these issues were closely clustered. The most common response was reprinting front list titles more rapidly (38%), followed by higher first-run print quantities (34%). Reprinting backlist titles more frequently (34%), higher backlist print quantities (33%), use of automatic stock replenishment (26%), and higher front list reprint quantities (23%) were also noted. Other answers included use of digital printing, better communication with printers, ganging projects together, and ordering earlier.

Asked to estimate how confident they were in their ability to source paper, 60% were "somewhat to not confident at all". Almost 70% were less confident in their ability to source offset print capacity. By comparison, only 46% worried about their ability to source or provide short-run digital capacity.

The primary concerns around freight and shipping were in the time needed to ship from either domestic or foreign printers to distribution centers. The time required to ship to domestic retailers and consumers was less of a concern.

With respect to the overall supply chain, concerns with over-ordering dominated, followed by worries about having to allocate stock to retailers. Using supply chain inventory to fulfill orders and cross-channel stock balancing received fewer votes, in part because many respondents did not see these options as relevant to their work.

Those responding to the survey included staff working in production and manufacturing (33%), operations (18%), executive or management roles (17%), editorial, design, and creative positions (7%), and sales or business development (6%). Other roles made up less than 5% each.

The survey reached a very experienced audience, with 53% working in book publishing for 10 to 25 years, and another 28% working in the industry "forever). Only 8% had worked in book publishing for fewer than five years. About half of the respondents work (or think they work) for BISG member companies, showing that the issues extend throughout the industry, not just among our engaged membership.

Happily, more than 85% were aware of the monthly BISG supply chain "brown bag lunch" series that launched last December; 72% had attended at least one session. And our favorite question, asking you to tell us a good book you've read recently, generated 49 answers, every one different from the rest. We work in a broad and engaged industry!

The survey results can be found in full at this link, with both visual and statistical presentations of answers to the questions posed. If you have thoughts on the survey, its implications, or questions that might help you better understand current supply chain issues, reach out to us at