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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the book market

One of the most important economic effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic is the awareness of the importance of supply chains for all products that eventually reach consumers. Supplying both the components needed to manufacture a product and the finished products to end users.

On the book market, after the inclusion in the plan of the publishing of a book, it is published, the publishing house orders a certain number of copies to the printing house, which, after printing, reach the publishing house’s warehouses. The publishing house then sends the books to bookstores, libraries and wholesale intermediaries. This is the system that has been practiced for years. Unsold copies of books are usually returned to the publishing house.

Over time, many adjacent systems have been developed through which publishers and merchants receive orders directly from readers.

Book printing is one of the most expensive activities in the life of a publishing house. To minimize the number of unsold books, an assessment is made of the number of copies printed, based on pre-order requests (orders before the book is printed). Thus, it is possible to optimize the number of copies ordered at the publisher, a balance between as many copies as possible to reduce printing costs, and the number of copies as small as possible to remain with as few unsold books that block part of the capital of the publishing house. A risk management based partly on science, and partly on intuition.

Long ago, more than 20 years ago, some companies had an ingenious idea: print-on-demand. Using modern printing technologies, even the publishing house could print a certain number of copies, from a single copy to the maximum capacity of the installations, depending on each order received.

Some contracts agreed between the publisher and the author or the copyright holder, allow an exclusivity of the publisher on the book as long as the publisher can honor the orders. In the case of books that sell too slowly, publishers risk being left with a large stock of unsold books, so some of them give up this exclusivity.

The print-on-demand system, due to the much higher printing costs for a few books than for thousands of copies, was initially used only for the largest and most commercial books. Subsequently, the technological improvement that resulted in lower printing costs allowed this system to be used for any other book. But so far there have been few publishers that have afforded such a system.

The current crisis has dramatically changed the supply chain in the book market. The increase in the number of book requests has led some publishers who were already using the “print-on-demand” system to resort to another printing model, “just-in-case”, depending on the sudden interest in certain books. There are many examples on the market in this regard, and the sudden increase in sales in print-on-demand system, for all publishers, confirms this trend.

The COVID-19 pandemic, increasing exponentially the demand for books, put publishers in front of problems that need to be solved urgently, due to the deterioration of the classic supply chain. It has been concluded that, in the current conditions, print-on-demand and digital book are much more advantageous. The digital formats of books, especially PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats from Amazon, after a decrease in percentage in previous years, are back in force during this period.

Publishers are thus faced with an unprecedented alternative since the invention of printing: they have to reinvent themselves, using modern technology for printing on demand and e-books, or are falling down in the coming years.

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