President Trump’s recent announcement that he wants to dramatically hike tariffs (fro 10% to 25%) on a huge range of consumer goods and materials shipped from the US to China could spell a big problem for book publishing.
“For years, U.S. publishers have relied on China for low-cost, high-capacity printing of four-color books, coffee table editions, Bibles and other standards of the trade and education market. The new tariff would almost surely result in higher prices, with publishers saying a hike of 50 cents or more is possible for a given book.” Book Sales are Steady, But Tariffs are on Publishers Minds, AP
One thing I noticed when I looked at the list of items impacted by the proposed tariffs (screenshot below) is that it actually doesn’t seem to be books printed in China that will be impacted by the tariff, but the raw materials to produce our own books. (It’s totally possible that I’m wrong, but I haven’t been able to find anything that listed full printed books aside from diaries and notebooks. Post-send edit: A tip from a knowledgable reader informed me that there are FOUR lists of goods that are impacted, which include printed books, children’s books, dictionaries, and more.)
If I’m right about that, then this could actually seriously harm our DOMESTIC printing operations, which have already been struggling because of the recent paper shortage, among other challenges. It will also impact not just higher-priced color books and comics, but possibly also our least expensive books, black and white paperbacks. A 50 cent increase in the cost of printing a $14.95 paperback would probably require at least a dollar price increase, if not two.
NPR doesn’t think that tariffs make good economic sense. “‘Tariffs that target only China aren't even really a jobs-creation program for Americans. ‘So the big beneficiary here of the tariffs on China are Vietnam, Cambodia, and maybe for electronics, it would be Taiwan,’ Irwin says. ‘We're not going to reshore a lot of this manufacturing. It's just going to shift to other countries.’ Ironically, the true winners of a tariff war may be the bystanders. Call it collateral enrichment.”
Even if full-color printed books are impacted, I would expect to see those print jobs moving to other countries in Asia, India, Eastern Europe, and Canada. I don’t think the U.S. has the capacity to print all the color books that American publishers sell, and I wouldn’t expect a tariff like this to spur immediate expansion of production, as any investment in additional capacity would be moot if the tariff were removed by a future government.
Want to do something about this? Click here and file a request to appear: Federal Register Request for Comments by June 10th.
If you’re reading and there’s a topic you’d like me to cover, leave a comment or send me an email at margotatwell at gmail.
You can also see more publishing thoughts and links on Twitter.