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In his annual letter to authors Hachette UK CEO says that supply chain problems have been extreme this year, thanks to a combination of the pandemic, Brexit and paper shortages.  But despite this, he is still optimistic for Christmas, a view shared by Waterstones MD James Daunt who said the chain was in good shape for the holiday season.

In his letter Shelley says: “One of the issues our team have been grappling with is a worldwide shortage of paper. Due to unexpected surges in sales in all markets during Covid lockdowns, the world has gone from having plentiful paper supplies to having not quite enough. We use FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] paper to print here and the squeeze has been particularly acute in this area.

“There has also been a similar challenge in printing capacity. With more books being printed to fulfil the additional orders, printing companies have been struggling, a problem worsened by the necessary Covid regulations that require frequent disinfecting of equipment and shorter shifts with fewer people, leading to decreased productivity. The issues have been acute in illustrated printers — which tend to be concentrated in China and Europe — and lead times have lengthened considerably for all illustrated titles.”

However, commenting on the year as a whole he noted the positive effect lockdown had had on people’s reading habits, with sales of fiction particularly strong.  He also noted a rise in sales in bricks and mortar bookshops post-lockdown, something he hopes will be a “perennial feature” of the market.

“We have opened more accounts with independent bookshops this year than for many years. The lockdowns, coupled with a growing realisation that it is vital for communities to support local businesses, means that I hope we are going to see this increase continue in years to come.”

Waterstones’ CEO James Daunt told the BBC: “When the shops were closed people were buying very predictable things and lots of bestsellers amongst the classics and so on. Once the shops reopened people have been in and browsing and buying across a whole swathe. There have been lots of slightly unexpected bestsellers including our very bestselling book at the moment, which is not an unknown person but it’s a peculiar book. We’ve got a great huge, lavish, wonderful book The Lyrics [Allen Lane] by Paul McCartney, which is selling more than anything else.”