Bible shortage may leave holiday buyers without a prayer

Sky Cline, who sells high-end Bibles via the internet, is staring down serious supply chain issues with less than six weeks to the “Black Friday” kickoff of Christmas shopping.

“We’ve tried to buy up … all the Bibles we can get” from European suppliers, Mr. Cline, owner of and Schuyler Publishers, said from his office in Richmond, Virginia.

The Bibles that Mr. Cline sells, bound in luxury hides and printed with wide margins for note-taking or in specialized formats, can cost $230 or more. He was so concerned about supply last week that his company emailed would-be buyers a photo of cargo ships awaiting port space and urgent advice to shop early.

“But at the end of the day, there’s going to be a shortage,” he said.

He added that the $185 “personal size” edition of the English Standard Version in blue goatskin already has sold out.

Complaints about supply chain problems have mounted in recent months, with reports of full cargo ships waiting weeks at sea to offload goods at crammed coastal ports. Labor shortages driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic have been cited for delays in delivering products as diverse as computer chips, auto parts, toys and even the Good Book.

Bible retailers say a shortage will hit during the peak buying season. Virginia Geist, who owns Cedar Springs Christian Stores in Knoxville, Tennessee, said her business sells four times more Bibles during the Advent season than at other times of the year.

Mr. Cline said Schuyler Publishers’ supply chain “is very long, and our supply chain issue, which is going to cause shortages for us, is the simple fact that transit now between Europe and the United States used to be six weeks and now can be up to three months.”

Where he would expect inventory by late October or early November, “now we’re hoping it’s going to get here in spring of 2022,” Mr. Cline said.

Complicating the transportation issues, Mr. Cline said, is that seven to 10 countries can be involved in supplying or making components for Schuyler Bibles.

The company has been importing Indian goatskin for binding since terrorism closed off its source in Nigeria, he said, but a COVID-19 outbreak in the Indian factory can shut down production for two weeks. Delays can be similar in the Chinese factory that does the stitching.

He said “99% of our stuff is done on-site in the Netherlands,” but that nation also has had COVID-19 closures.

“Because there are so many countries involved in production, this interconnectivity of virtually every industry in the nation, if everything just starts to bottle up because one component in our Bibles gets slowed down, our whole Bible gets slowed down,” Mr. Cline said.

Melinda Bouma, vice president and publisher of Bibles for Zondervan, one of the largest Bible publishers, said in a statement: “We are aware of the supply chain issues and are working diligently to overcome the challenges they create.”

Meanwhile, Jim Jewell, the brand director at Tyndale House Publishers in Carol Stream, Illinois, said the supply chain has presented challenges for a while, but the company’s warehouses are well-stocked.

“We’ll have plenty of Bibles for folks to choose from. It just may not be quite as robust to selection as it could have been if things hadn’t slowed down,” he said. “We’ll see less product than we expected, but enough to meet most needs.”

Mr. Jewell said many Bibles from publishers such as Tyndale, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson are produced in South Korea, India and China.

“China, in particular, produces the best, the highest-quality mass Bibles at the lowest price,” he said.

Shipping and overseas production aren’t the only factors for concern, he said. Tyndale’s One-Year Bible, which divides the Scriptures into daily reading assignments, is printed mostly in paperback in Indiana but has to arrive in stores at a specific time.

“It’s not a high-priced one, but the One-Year Bibles we have to have by December because people like to start their reading programs on Jan. 1, and so we got a call from the printer, and they said, ‘We’re having difficulty finding paper, and we may not be able to get those to you until January,” he said.

Mr. Jewell told the printer that the firm would “wait a whole year to do it if we’re going to wait until January.” At that point, the supplier found a different grade of paper. He said the product would be available for holiday shoppers.

One bright spot in Bible production, a printing expert said, is the former Soviet republic of Belarus. Michael Lindsay, president of World Wide Printing in Cedar Hill, Texas, said shipments from Belarus to the U.S. generally arrive via East Coast ports that are less backed up.

Still, that doesn’t mean every shipment is rapid or that prices aren’t rising, Mr. Lindsay said.

“We’ve had some delays and some price increases. We’ve had price increases, you know, in shipping, maybe, I’d say in the neighborhood of 20% over the last year and a half since COVID hit,” he said. “But we’ve heard several stories where the [shipping cost] from China to the United States has increased 400%. And it’s not just one place. I hear it from a lot of different publishers in North America and South America.”

Holman Bible Publishers, based in Nashville, Tennessee, is reporting a mixed bag of shipping issues and bright spots in the production process.

“Truth be told, the publishing industry has been seeing this since the latter part of 2020, though certainly not at the same level things currently are at,” said Andy McLean, publisher of Holman Bibles.

Mr. McLean said his business was worried about some arrivals, but Holman received “some of our key releases for the Christmas season, such as the new line extensions of the bestselling CSB She Reads Truth Bible as well as the new CSB Student Study Bible that should be arriving by the end of the month.”

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