‘November is the new December’ for book buying

Supply chain issues may disrupt what’s available closer to the holidays.

The cookbook section at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven. Booksellers are saying, “November is the new December,” and to buy books now. — Brian Dowd

With the holidays right around the corner, you may be deciding on what gift to get that special someone. If it’s a book, put the order in now.

To counter potential issues with the global supply chain, booksellers are stocking up on orders. The supply chain issues stretch across the bookselling spectrum from paper shortages to shipping container shortages, to labor shortages. 

Bunch of Grapes Bookstore manager Molly Coogan told The Times she bulked up on bigger or more colorful books, like cookbooks or “Renegades: Born in the USA” by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, in addition to her regular ordering.

“Anticipating these issues for months now, all of the publishers and sales reps have been urging us to buy as if we’re buying straight through the holidays,” Coogan said. “I’m buying in quantities that I wouldn’t typically buy at this time of year, in anticipation of there not being reprints in time for the holidays, or limited supply.”

Indie Bound, a trade group for independent bookstores, is promoting “November is the new December” to encourage readers to shop local and shop early ahead of the holiday season. With demand high for books and supply shortages expected, customers can buy books now or buy gift cards to get the books they want before the rush of holiday shopping.

“Everyone across the board with bookselling, the American Booksellers Association and local organizations, and the bookstores, are urging everyone to buy early and reserve books they’re interested in,” Coogan said. “And again reminding everyone booksellers are really good at recommending books if we don’t have what people are looking for.”

Book buyers make their orders months in advance of publication, making educated guesses on what will sell. Now with supply chain issues, sales representatives are telling bookstores to make their orders as soon as they can, because orders are being filled in the order they’re received. 

“If I back-order a title and there are 10 stores ahead of me, they’ll fill those, then come to me,” Coogan said. “I do know that some of the publishers are at least sort of keeping a private reserve for [independent bookstores], so that does help.”

According to Publishers Weekly, print book sales have soared in the first half of 2021, up nearly 19 percent compared with 2020. NPD, a market research firm, found that print book sales reached 751 million in 2020 — surpassing the next highest yearly total of 718 million in 2010.

This rise in print sales has been felt on the Island. Edgartown Books manager Mathew Tombers said his store has had a good year. “I think we’ve done better than we expected we were going to do,” he said. “Last fall was stronger than most falls, because there were more people on the Island. I thought this fall would drop off, and it’s as strong as 2020, if not stronger.”

Tombers added he’s been aggressive in buying sidelines — anything that’s not a book, from notebooks to knickknacks. Notebooks in particular have been a hot item at Edgartown Books. His initial shipment, which usually lasts him throughout the season, has been depleted several times. “I’ve had to reorder three times for notebooks, because people have been wanting to write,” he said.

Tombers said his store is similarly experiencing some supply chain issues, but not as much as he expected. One book that’s been particularly hard to get his hands on has been Stanley Tucci’s “Taste: My Life Through Food.” The culinary memoir from the famous actor is published by Simon & Schuster, which has been upfront about its supply issues.

“I spoke to my rep for the publisher, and there are 18,000 back orders for the book, and only 500 books in stock,” Tombers said. “I know Simon & Schuster has been having trouble getting paper, and has gotten some books pushed back.”

Despite the pandemic, it’s been a good year at Bunch of Grapes too. Coogan said the store has been cautious, but people have been coming out to buy books. “I think the pandemic got people in the habit of ordering books we don’t have, and knowing that we’ll get them for them and trusting us to do that,” she said. “I think we have a good relationship with customers who saw us through a really hard time, and we did our best to meet them and meet their needs. It’s been a good year, and we’re feeling good going into the holidays.”