The pandemic appears to be winding down (fingers crossed), but the supply chain is still struggling to catch up. Parents shopping for gifts this holiday season might just find that puzzles, board books, and more may be affected by shortages or wood and paper products — an issue that has disrupted multiple industries since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
The solution is not a simple one, because these shortages aren’t due to just one thing. Rather, the problem is multi-faceted and often interconnected, as reported y NPR’s Petra Meyer. While the shortage of the raw materials to produce wood-based products (like cardboard, paper, and lumber) is a problem in and of itself — with the price of paper products going up precipitously since the beginning of the year — there are other factors that contribute to shortages of paper products. Short-staffed ports and warehouses; bottlenecks in the shipping process (many paper products, including books, are printed in China); minimal facilities, like printing houses (also experiencing staffing shortages), actually able to make the products in the first place; and increased demand (toys, games, and books, which all rely on paper production, hit record sales numbers in 2020 and 2021) all play a role in shoppers having trouble finding a particular book, game, or toy for their child.
The trouble this has caused for industries like publishing and construction, has been well-documented in the media, but it is farther reaching than that. According to Meyer’s report for NPR, this can affect any industry that relies on paper or wood not only for fabrication of actual products but storing and shipping them, such as Ravensburger North America — a toy and board game company that makes Brio Trains, puzzles, and more — has halted new orders through 2021 in order to cope with its backlog.
As for books, retailers do not predict empty shelves this holiday season, but it may be more difficult to get a desired book in stock, especially for smaller, non-national chains (aka Amazon and Barnes & Noble will be less affected than your local indie bookshop). Speaking to Marketplace, Chuck Howard, an assistant professor of marketing at Texas A&M University, predicts that increased demand during the holiday season will only exacerbate the issue.
Fortunately, this unfortunate situation is well-known within industries, and everyone is working to come up with solutions or, at least, ways to ameliorate or preempt the issue as much as possible. Publishers and booksellers, for example, are working together to get orders in early and efficiently. In a viral Twitter thread Tubby & Boo’s, a New Orleans-based independent bookseller, advises folks to order gifts early (as in now) for your best chance at getting a favorite book for you or your kiddo this holiday.