In this guest blog post, Secretary General of Intergraf Beatrice Klose explores the impacts of paper shortage on the wider book industry
After two years of rolling lockdowns, Europe is finally able to take a (maskless!) breath. Shops are open, events are taking place, and we are rediscovering the pleasure of in-person connections. Rising demand for print goes together with a healthy economy, so the reopening of our societies should be offering much-needed relief to printing companies. But although the printing industry is experiencing a predictable rise in demand for printed products (particularly books), recovery is being stifled by the lack of availability of our sector’s primary raw material: paper.
For the last six months, few printing companies have been able to secure the quantity of paper they need to fulfil all orders. The shortage has been exacerbated by the diminishing capacity of paper producers – particularly those producing graphic paper, which lost more than 25% of capacity between 2016 and 2021. Shrinking capacity was already an ongoing trend, with COVID-19 speeding up the process. But of course, the pandemic was only temporary. Demand for paper is now rising and paper producers no longer have enough capacity to supply the market. The price of paper has also been an issue since mid-2021, when paper producers implemented unexpected, steep price increases due to rising energy costs. For some printers, paper prices have gone up 100% compared to one year ago. This has created the perfect storm for printing companies and their supply chain.
Paper shortages are threatening publications printing (e.g., books, newspapers, magazines, and advertising), and board shortages are threatening packaging printing. Time-sensitive products are particularly at risk, as well as many essential products like food, medicine, and schoolbooks. Some printing companies reported that at the beginning of the year 40% of the paper they needed could not be obtained. One large sheetfed printer from Germany stated that “we can foresee missing amounts of paper of up to 15% of our planned production in 2022”. Another Swedish printer warned: “We have financial pressure both from customers and now also from our suppliers. We are struggling to keep our margin and with pressure from both ways this is really a challenge.”
Paper is a critically important raw material. Such alarming shortages and price increases will have an enormous effect on printers, their customers, and their supply chain – not to mention on wider society. Printers are working closely with their customers – notably with book publishers – to find the best solutions, and everyone is helping each other. But with many printers now being forced to handle only the most urgent orders, a crisis is underway, and the production of essential products is at risk.
Intergraf, the European trade association for the printing industry, has taken various actions to draw attention to this emergency, as have our member associations across Europe. We call on the European regulator to acknowledge the seriousness of this situation, and to secure a sufficient supply of raw materials to facilitate the continuous production of essential goods – goods that serve European citizens in their daily lives and are key conveyors of information, education, and culture in Europe. Most critically, we call for a significant reduction in exports of pulp and paper to third countries, and the safeguarding of sufficient production capacity to ensure the autonomy of Europe’s printing and publishing industries.
The European printing industry is made up of some 112,000 printing companies (95% SMEs), which employ 640,000 people, and generate a combined turnover of €82 billion (EU27 + UK; CH; NO).
Intergraf is the European printing industry association, representing employers. We are a Brussels-based umbrella organisation with 20 members from 19 countries. Our primary task is to advocate for the printing industry in Europe, working with European Union to support the sector’s competitiveness through advocacy, information-sharing, networking, social dialogue, and European projects.