A Proactive Response to the Industry-wide Paper Shortage

An ongoing paper shortage and other supply-chain disruptions are affecting the publishing industry as a whole. We asked Jane Searle, Norton’s head of production for college texts, and Ann Shin, editorial director, about the shortage and the steps Norton is taking in response.

Ann Shin
Image Credit: Justine Knight Photography

First, can you tell us a little bit about Norton’s publishing process for printed textbooks? 

Ann: Our educational publishing philosophy hinges on listening to instructors about course needs and on our authors’ and editors’ expertise in developing high-quality course materials. Those principles extend to the book production process as well: Norton’s production managers work closely with editors and authors to make sure the finished product delivers on the author’s vision and meets students’ and instructors’ needs as effectively as possible. 

Jane: The college production department works on the books from the point manuscript is delivered, to design, typesetting, page makeup, art creation, through to manufacturing and delivery to our warehouse. This holistic approach creates an investment in and knowledge of the content that contributes to what I believe are the best books in the business. It is the printing part of the equation that has become the most challenging this past year, due to supply-chain issues.

How are supply-chain issues affecting book publishing in general? 

Jane: You may have seen articles like this one from the New York Times describing the challenges book publishers are facing. Like other industries, book manufacturers are impacted by shipping delays, a tight labor market, and difficulty in getting replacement parts for specialized equipment. We are also experiencing a paper shortage that began several years ago but became much more acute over the past 18 months.

Jane Searle
Image Credit: Jane Searle

 Why is there a paper shortage? Do you have a sense for how long the shortage will last? 

Jane: Books are made from what are called “graphic papers.” These graphic papers use the same raw materials (trees, wood pulp, etc.) as many other products, such as packaging materials and toilet tissue. Due to COVID and the rapid growth of online shopping, which uses packaging materials for each order placed, the demand for these other paper products has skyrocketed. In addition, they are less expensive to produce and more profitable than graphic papers. The result is a leaner supply of graphic papers. Both higher demand from a healthy book-publishing industry and lower, slower supply have created a level of scarcity the industry has never experienced before.

Regarding future forecasts, we do not see paper availability improving in the near term. My educated guess is we will continue to experience paper shortages through 2022 and perhaps beyond.

How are the paper shortage and other supply-chain issues affecting Norton’s textbooks and course materials? What steps is Norton’s production department taking? 

Jane: These issues have affected Norton in the same way they have the publishing industry in general: it takes longer to manufacture the books, due to slow paper deliveries and labor shortages across the board. Also, in some cases we can’t print as many books as we’d like, due to the lower paper supply.

To minimize the impact on our customers, we’ve taken steps like starting the production and manufacturing processes earlier, forecasting paper needs earlier, prescheduling titles with the printers as much as a full year ahead, testing new types of paper, and staggering print runs to print the books that are needed most urgently as soon as possible. 

Our production managers work closely with our printers to identify problems quickly, and with Norton’s editorial and sales groups to communicate those problems promptly and find the best solutions. Regular communication and the ability to be agile and reprioritize manufacturing schedules on an ongoing basis are both key.

Does Norton have any plans to stop offering printed textbooks? 

Ann: We’re committed to giving instructors and students choices, and as long as paper is available, those choices will include print formats. This commitment includes offering printed exam copies and desk copies for instructors.

At the same time, we’ve seen a majority of students in most disciplines opting for ebooks. For our authors and editors, what has been exciting about the evolution of ebooks is the opportunity to go beyond what we offer in the printed book and to deliver an even more effective, interactive learning experience. We’ve also seen tremendous growth in the number of schools and instructors participating in Inclusive Access programs. These programs enable all students to access the course materials (typically in digital format) on the first day of class, at the lowest cost.

What can instructors expect if the Norton book they assign is affected by the paper shortage or other supply-chain issues? 

Ann: As early as last summer, we began reviewing and updating the steps we take to minimize disruptions for our customers if a problem arises. Instructors can expect proactive communication from our sales and marketing teams about any significant delays, as well as information about alternative formats. Our sales representatives work closely with campus bookstores to address any issues that come up  with an order. 

The good news is that the vast majority of books that we expect to sell for spring 2022 and fall 2022 classes are already printed and in our warehouse. Discerning eyes may occasionally notice that the same book is a bit slimmer or a bit thicker from one printing to the next because we’ve substituted an available paper stock for one that has become unavailable.

And, of course, any instructor who is considering assigning the ebook can expect the same level of quality and support that comes with our printed texts. You can learn more about Norton’s dedication to customer service here. And if you have any questions about our approach to the paper shortage or about Norton materials for your course, please reach out to your local Norton representative.

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