There are few people left at work in publishing production departments now who can remember how it used to be when paper didn’t just fall out of the sky when you clicked your fingers. We’ve worked ever quicker and smoother purchasing operations into our workflow systems, relying on a slick supply chain, and now allow for a couple of weeks at the end of the process for the printer to receive the files and get the book into the warehouse. Delays have become almost unknown: unknown because any supplier who misses dates for you will probably have their ticket cancelled. But it looks like the unknown terror is about to return. Get used to it. If there’s no paper, there’s no books. And we are approaching a no paper world — or at least a world which isn’t overflowing with pulp and paper.

D. Eadward Tree gives us his 2019 Print Forecast, forwarded by Publishing Executive. The article is mainly focussed on the magazine business, but the same lessons apply for books. Bear in mind that book papers represent a tiny proportion of worldwide paper usage: there’s probably more paper consumed by Amazon’s cartons than by books. And as one papermaker suggests in Mr Tree’s piece, they’d make more money making toilet paper.

In the end, it’s not really too hard to work all this out. If paper doesn’t come quickly, then you need to lay in an inventory and keep it up-to-date. Large publishers used to employ people whose job it was to monitor and manage their paper inventories. We have now tended to lay off this responsibility onto the printer who gets to supply paper and maybe keep a penny or two on the transaction. I don’t think exhorting and threatening your printer on this score is really going to work: the squeaky wheel may get the oil, but too much squeaking and a small wheel tends to get switched out and put aside. It’s not hard to manage paper inventory: just costs you the labor time — and the cost of funding and storing an inventory.

Ideally you need to restrict your paper usage to as few as possible different types and sizes of paper. You also need to make your print decisions earlier, so paper can be guaranteed for the book once it’s ready for the printer. Maybe you’ll find yourself occasionally determining the print run based on the paper on hand: “Divide and print to paper” was an instruction we’d often have to give the printer. You’ll also need to preschedule. You’ll want to hold extra paper to make some allowance for a quick and unexpected reprint. All this takes time and concentration. Managing paper inventories can be pretty straightforward. I once upon a time constructed a moderately elaborate FileMakerPro system of three linked databases — to calculate probable future usage title by title; to book in firm usage numbers based on the printers’ usage reports; and to generate purchase orders in good time to ensure replenishment took place before inventory was exhausted. But you can run a paper inventory on a few index cards. Carrying a stock of various papers of different sizes will mean tying capital up in white paper, so you’ll need to sell the idea to the bosses. But consider what your chances of survival are in a sea where the big fish are going to be able to intimidate printers into letting them gobble up all the paper, leaving smaller fry without.

Look on the bright side. This “loss of efficiency” represents a gain in responsibility for production departments.

See also Paper buying