Impending Paper Shortage?

By | Tuesday, April 27, 2021 Leave a Comment
I've happened across a couple pieces recently about some expected and/or current product shortages for 2021. They've ranged from pharmaceuticals to ketchup packets to disinfectants. I didn't put a whole lot of stock in the first video about it I saw because it was presented in a very fear-mongering format. "YOU NEED TO STOCK UP THESE ITEMS NOW BECAUSE THERE'S GOING TO BE SHORTAGES AND YOU'LL DIE!!!!!" But it did help perk my eyes and ears up for more serious and measured pieces about the topic.

Toilet paper was one item that came up in several lists. And since people seemed to be unable to help but make reference to the shortages we saw last year here in the US, it was sort of inherently presented as: it's not a problem with toilet paper manufacturing per se, it's just that people will be panic-buying again. But there was another piece that came up in a few different places that started to get me thinking. I started seeing home improvement and DIY type outlets talking about building material shortages. Not everything, but some fairly key items like two-by-fours and particle board and the like. Then there were a few pieces talking more broadly about distribution issues -- mainly thanks to the Suez Canal thing last month -- and one of the bits buried deeper into those articles was how there's also some distribution issues because cardboard boxes are rising in price because the raw materials there are a bit harder to come by.

Comics Being Printed
All of the supply chain issues being brought up circle around the topic of wood-based products. If not wood itself, then its close cousins like paper. And why do you suppose wood and paper shortages might be of note to the comic book industry?

I haven't heard or seen anything about paper shortages specifically as it pertains to publishing yet. There have been a few reports I've seen about how publishing in general saw a surge in 2020 with people's entertainment options largely limited to what they can do at home. That implies that more paper was needed to make more books. And if that trend continues (and I don't see any reason why it wouldn't) then we'll see a greater demand for paper but with possibly fewer resources to do it. Like I said, I haven't seen any word about paper shortages for publishers as of yet, but I don't think it takes much of a leap to reason that if we're expecting to see shortages in TP, cardboard, and lumber then paper will likely experience a similar problem.

The questions then become "How much would the price of paper increase?" and "Will that be a cost that can/will be passed along to consumers?" Publishing, historically, has pretty thin margins so even a small increase in the price of paper could mean the difference between profitable and not. Is that a cost that can be shouldered by publishers? That might depend on the size of the publisher and how long they expect prices to remain high. For a couple months, I expect a company like Marvel would be willing/able to see a slight dip in profits if they saw it as being a broad -- but temporary -- resources issue across the industry. If they see it as being a year or more, that might warrant a discussion of hiking the prices on their covers. And that might happen on a much shorter timeframe for smaller publishers.

From what I've seen/heard, it's way too early to say. But I wouldn't be surprised if discussions about paper stock and/or pricing in the comics industry become more pronounced by summer.
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