Updated: Apr 13, 2022
Lead Times for Book Printing are Longer than Usual
By Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com
Nearly all industries have been affected by the pandemic, and book printing is no exception. Normally, we quoted twenty business-day lead times for books printed in black and white, and twenty to twenty-five business days for full-color books. Now we tell authors to expect that their books will take twice as long. Why so many days? Some of the reasons are obvious and others require extra explanation:
Labor: some people fell ill while others opted to remain safe at home rather than take a chance on contracting COVID. It makes sense that a smaller workforce slowed production. Some tasks like stacking or packing do not require much training so new hires can get to work right away. In many cases office people were sent to the print floor to pitch in when those spots needed filling. Other positions like press operators are not as easily replaced (temporarily or permanently) causing some machinery left wanting – hours or days – for a skilled person.
Supply-chains: everyone has seen the news images of freighters anchored offshore waiting to unload to our US ports. Delays in receiving raw materials can slow down the whole production process. This does not involve just paper stock but items like ink, cardboard, and adhesives.
Machinery maintenance: COVID-related illnesses have shrunk the pool of technicians. It used to be that if a downed press needed an outside tech, that mechanic would show up the same day. Now it may be two or three days before getting the right person in to make a repair. That could result in a critical piece of machinery sitting idle. A related issue is in obtaining replacement parts, which takes longer than in years past.
Fewer book printers: the pandemic forced some manufacturers to close. Other companies converted into more lucrative markets such as corrugated board. Although existing book printers are happy with the increase in business, greater demand has put pressure on production schedules.
It is not all bad news. As the pandemic wanes, more people are available to work uninterrupted. Efforts such air shipping are being instituted to transport raw materials to manufacturers. Book printers are adding capacity in response to orders that other printers can no longer fill. But authors still need to be more prudent in assuring that they get what they need in a timely manner. A finished manuscript needs editing and file design which can take weeks to complete.
Need to print your book?
If it’s a reprint requiring revisions, that process will certainly tack on extra days to the process. Any author needing a reprint should not wait until one is down to a couple of books. Plan with the understanding that book printing takes time. If a title was printed by us before, there is a good chance that book is in our quick-turnaround system called BVM (Book Vending Machine). The books cost a little more, but authors usually receive delivery in about a week.