Shoppers looking to buy books as Christmas presents have been urged to purchase their gifts early amid concerns that a worldwide paper shortage could lead to supply problems.
Paper shortages and shipping concerns could restrict the ability to print new copies of hit titles, particularly for glossy colour volumes ordinarily produced in continental Europe and the Far East.
If books enjoy sudden success at Christmas and sell out, experts have said, it could take months for new copies to reach shelves in the UK.
Waterstones, the UK’s biggest bookseller, has prepared for the expected delays by stockpiling projected bestsellers like JK Rowling’s The Christmas Pig.
James Daunt, the Waterstones chief executive, said: “Colour printing comes from Europe or the Far East and takes longer.
“Books generally travel from the Far East by boat, so reprints take a few months and with the current port congestion will take significantly longer than usual.”
If a book is selling well in the autumn, publishers normally have time to order more and see them arrive in time for Christmas, but delays this year mean any extra orders or books printed abroad are unlikely to arrive until the new year.
Mr Daunt added: “Supply chain delays, which are the cause of the paper shortages, therefore will impact only the speed of reprinting additional copies, should any individual titles sell unexpectedly well.
“The further away the printer, the longer the likely delay.
“In practice, this means some colour printed books – cookbooks, some gift books – will be most at risk as some of these are printed in the Far East.”
The Publisher’s Association has also indicated that shipping and paper supplies could cause problems in the build-up to Christmas, with industry experts advising that, as with toys, customers should order early to avoid missing out.
Delays have been expected due to factors including rising timber prices and a slump in demand leading to the closure of paper mills internationally.
Haulage issues, experienced across other industries, have also created an expectation of delays in books being delivered to bookshops in the UK.
But Waterstones has assured readers that standard black and white volumes are mainly produced in the UK, and will likely be unaffected by the delays potentially facing reprints of glossy bestsellers.
The chain with almost 300 shops across the UK has assessed which titles are expected to sell well, and stocked up ahead of time on new releases including The Christmas Pig and Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice.
Glossy books filled with pictures, including Sir Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics and Nigel Slater’s A Cook’s Book, have been procured in bulk to mitigate any reprint issues.
Copies of Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and The Sun have also been stockpiled in preparation for big sales.
A spokeswoman for the chain said: “In short, Waterstones is very well stocked and does not foresee any shortage of books beyond a few isolated titles where sales are unexpectedly high.”