I recently came across this article that lamented the fact that new books will be hard to come by for the remainder of 2021. Diving deeper, I learned that this delay is because most books are printed in China and have to first travel across the ocean on enormous shipping containers before reaching North America.
Due to Covid, supply-chain bottlenecks have emerged that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Simply put, right now there aren’t enough container shipping containers, dockworkers, and truck drivers to move these books halfway across the world efficiently or at a low cost.
Reading this, I couldn’t help but appreciate that Century Press’ books are printed in Cornwall, only an hour away from my home. Plus, our bookbindery is located a mere 45 minute drive away in Smiths Falls. With a supply chain so local to our headquarters in Ottawa, the last thing on my mind is rising shipping container rates or import/export issues.
When production of The Great Gatsby was moving along more slowly than I anticipated, a colleague suggested that I tell my customers that it was due to Covid-related delays; after all, who wasn’t encountering those? Truthfully, I couldn’t do it, because it was frankly untrue! Century Press wasn’t being slowed down by our globalized supply chain, we just wanted to ensure that we had sufficient time to deliver a high-quality product to our early supporters!
Letterpress printing is not something that can be photographed on an iPhone overseas and approved by email. It needs to have fingers run across it and be viewed at varying angles with different kinds of light. Similarly, how can a leather binding be assessed without feeling it in your hands as you flip the pages?
Making a Century Press edition is not something that can be done remotely.
And on the subject of remote work, for all those out there with Zoom-fatigue, I am with you 100%. In fact, I think I may realistically have a full-fledged Zoom-phobia. One huge benefit of having our suppliers so close is that I can actually talk to them in real life! Besides reducing my ‘screen-time,’ this makes the process of innovating and troubleshooting our books much more effective.
All in all, at Century Press we think that leveraging a local supply chain makes for better books. Plus, supporting the local book publishing economy helps ensure that these jobs—and more importantly, these scarce, valuable skillsets—don't fundamentally disappear from the community.