The paper shortage, the noir novel of the literary season

“My father created the Corlet printing works in 1961, and a shortage like the one we are going through today, he never saw that! “, says Jean-Luc Corlet, CEO of the family business and a well-known name among French publishers. With 240 employees, the Norman group prints for Michel Lafon, Les Arènes, Payot & Rivages or even Le Tripode. The book market represents 50% of its turnover, and, as with every literary season, orders are pouring in.

But this year, Corlet, like the rest of the sector, is facing unusually long paper supply times.

“The problem started to be felt at the end of spring”, remembers Hélène Vaultier, a free-lance manufacturer who spent sixteen years in the Hachette group before setting up on her own and now works for the Globe, Matin Calme or Dalva editions. “The books put on sale at the end of August are produced very early, at the very beginning of summer, she explains. When I placed an order, I noticed that the lead times for paper supplies to printers were unusual. “

Instead of three to five weeks normally, she is told that she will have to wait eight, sometimes ten weeks. Today, some paper makers do not take orders any more before 2022. “In 2020, because of the Covid, production slowed down a lot. As the market started to recover in early 2021, demand exploded. ” Result, when the director of Globe editions, Valentine Gay, asked Hélène Vaultier at the end of August to launch the printing of 5,000 additional copies of Shuggie Bain, a very noticed first Scottish novel (winner of the Booker Prize 2020), this one had to use a different paper, for lack of available raw material. “It’s very, very tense”, she sums up.

Soaring prices

For reasons of cash flow and inventory management, small publishers buy their paper directly from their printers, who take care of the supply. Large groups (Editis, Hachette, Albin Michel, etc.) can afford to place their own orders.

Pascal Lenoir is the production director of the Madrigall group (owner of Gallimard, Denoël, Flammarion, J’ai lu…) and chairs the environment and manufacturing committee of the National Publishing Union. For him, the shortage will not lead to a shortage of stock, but for a few months it has resulted in “Increases in the price of paper and longer lead times”.

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