It’s still on the minds of marketers and other print-dependent professionals everywhere—when will the paper supply shortages, delays, and price increases subside? And what can we all do in the meantime to make the most of a difficult situation? Since our last post covering these issues, we’ve found some smart strategies to deal with this frustrating reality. But first, let's take a quick look at how we got to this point.
Why Are We Having a Paper Shortage?
It’s important to understand the roots of the problem if we’re going to work our way around it. Even before the pandemic, there were issues with the paper industry. Several North American paper mills closed because they simply couldn’t compete while contending with increased labor costs, stricter environmental laws, and older equipment.
To survive, other mills shifted production to higher-margin premium grade or manufactured board stock to feed the growing packaging industry. This left fewer mills to produce printing and writing grade paper, and the vacuum caused overseas mills to rush in. At the same time, our growing dependence on just-in-time (JIT) printing also meant that many printers kept lower inventory.
As soon as the pandemic hit, these issues were exacerbated by shut-downs that froze production and shipping, and seriously hamstrung the labor market. As businesses reopened several times during the pandemic, the ramp-up was severe. Any inventory was quickly used, and getting the mills back up and running could take up to six months. Then as the world opened back up again, demand exploded. Mills had already cut capacity, so trying to meet surging demand was very difficult.
That brings us to now. While currently contending with labor shortages, shipping delays, and increased prices, it’s hard for manufacturers (and the rest of us) to keep up. Overseas mills are having the same problems as domestic mills, and costs have skyrocketed. Estimates put the price to move products from Asia at about 3x the pre-pandemic cost. One printer said their costs have increased by about 20% in the last few months, and another quotes that number at 25-40% in the past six to nine months. And it’s affecting all paper types. Whereas coated stock was the issue earlier, now every type of finish is expensive and hard to find, including cover stock and uncoated paper. Printers are receiving shorted orders since there is not enough inventory to ship. We are still in the middle of the shortage, and inventory is shifting daily.
It’s OK! There’s a Way to Weather the Shortage
While the current conditions can seem disheartening, there are steps you can take to ensure you get the paper you need. With some strategic planning, it’s possible to work around these challenges:
- Plan far ahead. Without the convenience of JIT ordering, you’ll need to think much further out than you did in the past. Our recommendation is to work with a printing partner who can work with you and your team to meet your needs, has strong relationships with paper suppliers, and give you recommendations on paper type, paper options, and lead times so you can plan ahead for your timelines. Lead times are ever-changing…which leads us to #2 of our list…
- Stay in touch with your printer. To understand the current shifting market and the up-to-the-minute costs of substrates, it’s important to keep in close contact with your printer. Let them know your specific needs and projections for new projects so they can help plan ahead too.
- Be flexible with paper specs! There are some excellent substitutes if your first pick isn’t available or if it’s too pricey. For instance, you can substitute silk for a gloss finish, or use 80-pound paper if 70-pound paper isn’t available.
When Will It Get Better?
No one knows for sure when the delays, shortages, and price increases will abate, but many industry experts are hopeful that the paper shortages will start to subside by the beginning of 2023. Although shortages, shipping delays, and price increases could continue, it is difficult to say. Any additional COVID outbreaks could change the calculus quickly. So it’s important to stay connected with your printer.
Ironmark has continuously monitored the market. We have planned far in advance to ensure that we have enough inventory for our clients. We also have excellent relationships with our vendors and can find a number of helpful alternatives. We’re your committed print partner, and we’ll keep using creative ways to get all of us through this bumpy time. If you ever have questions on the current state of the market, please reach out. We look forward to riding out the storm and finding sunny skies again.