How to Manage Your Global Supply Chain in a Time of Uncertainty

August 31, 2021
Ingram Staff
How to Manage Your Global Supply Chain in a Time of Uncertainty

During the height of COVID in 2020, we saw many borders shut down and large cities experience lockdown. With the world starting to open back up, labor shortages and reduced manufacturing are causing carrier delays and extended production times.

The last 18 months have been a thriller – on par with an Agatha Christie novel, and the future is still a bit murky. One thing is for certain, reaching consumers where they live, while strategically managing your inventory through local printing and shipping, has never been more important.

The Link Between Printing and Distributing

Order Sooner. Print Sooner. Ship Faster.

Global transit delays have hindered you from getting your inventory to warehouses and to the end consumer quickly.

The call for having your inventory into warehouses sooner has gotten drastically louder, due to shipping delays. Retailers want access to your content. Can your supply meet their demand?

One solution is to have a distribution provider whose printing and warehouse operations are in the same building.

This encourages you to have titles set up within a print ecosystem so if you do run short on time, you can print in the market and get the books immediately into the warehouse and avoid shipping delays and even some tax implications.

Or expand your network to make your titles instantly available to consumers.

Meeting demand is all about getting your books into the hands of a consumer as quickly as possible, sometimes that means adjusting retail prices to cover slightly higher printing costs. The faster you can print and ship the better chance demand keeps progressing on your titles.

Print-on-Demand: Meeting Your Readers Where They Live

Are your books available in the market where the customer is based?

What’s great about the world we live in now is the number of tools and resources at your fingertips that weren’t available 20-30 years ago.

You may have started bookselling in the mid-'80s. It’s been 40 years… But the ability to be able to print in a market on-demand is now a well-proven model.

On-demand, in market printing, has grown in importance in the last 18 months due to the surge in supply.

The coordination of printing and shipping books around the world has always been challenging, but in the past, it’s been logical to print cheaply where you can — this dynamic is changing.

Two Reasons to Print in Market

1.    The price of containers and shipping has gone up by 300% from China to America and two to three times more expensive now to ship books from the US into the UK market. Shipping them via sea freight from China is around six times more expensive than it was the same time in 2019. You're looking at around a three-month sea freight transit time shipping books from China into the UK or into the US market.

The cost of moving products is changing the dynamic of shipping across the globe.

2.    Climate change. The whole sustainability message is clearly strengthened and underpinned by the ability to print when there's an order rather than print the stock and put it in a warehouse. POD directly reduces your carbon footprint.

Use DHL’s Carbon Calculator to evaluate your impact.

Printing and shipping into the market will always be around and getting away from that operation is a massive shift. But here’s the question for you. Is your book in the consumer’s hand as quickly as possible?

Print-on-Demand as a Sales Solution

Let’s get back to the basics. There are three standards to your success:

-       Availability

-       Discoverability

-       Searchability

Print-on-demand provides all of these from the perspective of a sales solution, rather than a print solution.

With the internet age and mobile adoption, your books are available to more readers than ever before.

POD is often viewed as a print solution. However, it can be viewed as a sales solution, risk solution, and a testament to the ability to reach international markets without having to worry about inventory and container costs.

How Brexit has Disrupted the UK and EU Book Supply Chain

1.    It’s clearly more expensive to ship books from the UK into the EU 27 and vice versa than it was before. There are several reasons, but one is due to VAT (Value Added Tax) rules. You can read more about the EU VAT changes here!

Publisher Advice: The key to understanding your tax obligations is in terms of knowing where the sale is being made.

If you are a publisher in the UK and you're selling a book to somebody in the individual or the individual EU countries, that is your sale because you're collecting the money from a customer. You have an obligation to declare the unit value, and you also have an obligation to collect the VAT or to charge it.

2.    The disruption of EMEA (Europe, Middle Eastern, and Africa) distribution. Before Brexit, there was a flow to printing and distributing in these regions but now there is a hole in the European space.

Publisher Advice: The Print-on-demand model provides an option to this problem. Global Connect partners offer availability to print and ship in the EU through countries like Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Russia.

Consumer Trends Across the US and UK

Consumers have transitioned to online purchasing and plan to continue purchasing online when we’re back to “normal.” Websites like Bookshop have filled the need for independent publishers or independent bookstores early in the pandemic as they set to establish a firm online presence.

It’s less about the type of content consumers are purchasing but about the availability of your content where consumers buy books.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the British have always been heavy book buyers and the book trade has been resilient.

In depressed times, the book market doesn't fall off a cliff, and in growth times, it doesn't skyrocket. However, the past year has seen extreme growth in hardback books and online sales.

On another note, the bookstore is not dead. Recently, the UK and Irish Bookseller's Association announced their membership had gone over a 1,000 for the first time in about 10 years.

Insight and Trends into the Indian Book Market

India is the second largest English language retail book market in the world, and the third largest publishing market. India has 1.3 billion people, and in addition to China, the two countries make up 40% of the global population.

With the internet age and mobile adoption, your books are available to more readers than ever before.

Payment preferences in India are changing from credit cards to wallets, leading to a great deal of sales happening quickly online.

In the beginning of the pandemic in India, books were not considered as essential item. Publishers there were not able to sell books for a certain period. Opposed to much of the world where books were considered essential.

Indian publishers who were able to shift from not selling to selling online quickly, because of their availability, discoverability, and searchability, were able to see quality sales during the pandemic.

India has grown to become the largest search and buy market. Because of the high mobile adoption, consumers know what they want. They search on their mobile phones, look for a product, then buy the product immediately using their digital wallets. This digital speed has vastly helped the book business in India.

The overall market shift to online has opened a tremendous opportunity for you to sift through the titles in your catalog that would fit the audience in India. This lift is not as big as you might think.

The Content Relevant to Consumers in India

1.    Education

India as a country and the prime minister are focusing on increasing literacy and digital literacy. At the same time, education is going to be a big opportunity for India and for a long time, as the English literacy rate grows.

2.    Children’s Books

Children's books have surged ahead because of parents and children being at home the last 18 months. They needed something new to learn and the availability has been steady for young readers.

3.    Trade (Adult fiction and non-fiction)

The children who are reading books now are the readers in the next couple of decades. Where segments like Trade are going to benefit.

Key point: Have content where the consumer is, and in the ways, they want to consume it.

4 Creative Solutions Taken by Publishers the Last 18 Months

1. Global Connection

In Europe, you can connect with printing partners across several countries like Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, and Russia. In case of a disaster, retailers in those markets will be able to buy titles locally, and you will realize sales that otherwise would have been lost.

2. POD

Skipping to the other side of the world, publishers in Australia have set up books in a print-on-demand model only for the Australian market. This allows you to print-on-demand in the market where the consumer is located and cutting the cost of shipping and holding inventory.

When you can only forecast with 70-80% accuracy, a POD model is a major help. Allowing you to print titles when the demand surges, especially during the holidays.

3. Multiple Formats

The death of the paper book has been exaggerated over the century. The paper book, in all its manifestations, is in good health. There’s been a surge of titles going into hardback.

The barrier of entry into audio has come down, due to the innovation in AI solutions. Ebooks have remained a steady outlet for consumption and necessary addition as part of publishing programs.

In the last 18 months, there’s been an increase in the conversion of ebooks. Print titles moving into the backlists and making more backlist titles available in the ebook format. Your increased sales are about getting the books in the format the consumers want in their hands and whatever way that they want to access those books.

4. Direct-to-Consumer

DTC offers a unique solution to meeting consumers right where they are through online marketing and availability. DTC is a terrific way to build a brand and serve a community of readers who tend to be loyal to the business model.

But what if you have titles that aren't POD compatible and you're trying to reach consumers in a different market?

1.    Determine if your title is out of the question for POD

For example, the heavily illustrated coffee table book on Mark Rothko, will most likely never go into print-on-demand. However, some titles, with a tweak in some of the cover treatments and paper, may fit POD.

2.    Change the print formatting based on the edition being released to the market

For instance, a US edition could be a hardcover, spot gloss, foil embossing, all the bells and whistles. But the version you release in Europe may be a paperback version that can be easily printed through POD. Right now, standardization of the product is key to POD success.

3.    Look for a distributor that reaches markets that fit your specialty content

Look for a distributor with a sales team in markets you’d like to reach. They'll likely have access to warehousing and a great network for moving your books.

How to Plan for this Holiday Season

There's a labor shortage across the board in all markets. Both print and delivery times are extended right now, and they will play a unique role in how you need to plan for the holiday season.

Start Early

Talk to your printers now about what their availability will be over the coming months and build in extra time for transport to your warehouse. For instance, if you normally get your books into your warehouse in late September, plan for the beginning of September.

You can expect delays from print to warehouse to transit to retailers. Be ambiguous and plan extra time into your holiday strategy.

Guaranteed Availability Program

It’s going to be another big sales season, especially around Christmas. Consider putting your titles into a GAP to make sure your customer gets the title they want when they want it.


Meet customer demand without overprinting. Take control of your printing costs—print only what you sell and create a clear path to more sales plus lower overheads. If your titles lend themselves to standardization and you’re having difficulties forecasting your print count, have them waiting for when the demand surge comes.

How to Manage Your Global Supply Chain in a Time of Uncertainty
Ingram Staff

Ingram Staff

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