Woman looks at camera while perched on balcony in bookstore.
Katherine Bergstrom, owner at A Novel Idea in Lincoln, devises creative solutions in the face of supply chain disruptions.

With worldwide supply chain shortages impacting everything from semiconductors to the beef industry, it is easy to overlook local bookstores, another market suffering from the continued disruptions.

Global supply chain issues brought on from the pandemic have scaled up a number of costs for local Lincoln bookstores. As a result, stops like A Novel Idea and Francie and Finch employ creative business measures to ensure production costs don’t result in higher prices for their customers.

For Katherine Bergstrom, owner at A Novel Idea in Lincoln, the pandemic and the supply chain most exacerbated costs indirectly related to the purchase of books themselves. Cleaning supplies, masks and hand sanitizer all come at a premium as a result of the pandemic.

“How much will that cost to ship?” Bergstrom said. “If there’s a supply chain issue there, we may not get something we really need.”

Increasing utility costs have also impacted A Novel Idea, the most important being gasoline. Since A Novel Idea is a used bookstore, it relies in part by locally sourcing texts from the area. Transporting what can sometimes be large collections requires gasoline. The commodity continues to be expensive.

Supply chain disruptions increase another cost directly related to the books themselves, namely the sourcing of archival covers for the literature. Fragile books receive mylar covers, known as an archival cover. Without these implements, books are susceptible to serious degradation.

Bergstrom is also conscious of supporting her small staff during a difficult time. This means paying for food and general staff amenities, both difficult to source at times.

“We’re like a household,” Bergstrom said. “All the same things that apply to a household apply here.”

At Francie and Finch, the story is slightly different. Instead of being a used bookseller, Francie and Finch source only new books from centralized distributors. Owner Leslie Huerta said the bookstore relies on ordering small quantities of books every day. Huerta referred to this process as rapid replenishment.

Huerta noted that the pandemic forced a marginal increase in costs associated with shipping and handling. Another more unpredictable problem came in the packing material used by the distributors to transport the ordered books. The distribution center sent Huerta a note informing her of a downgraded material, one more prone to damaging its cargo.

Both Bergstrom and Huerta stressed the necessity to keep costs away from the customer while maintaining the health of their respective businesses.

Given Francie and Finch’s rapid replenishment model, the standard suite of pandemic-related delivery delays presented a problem early on. In response, Huerta said the bookstore embraced more extensive and rigorous planning day-by-day with a wider selection of publishers.

“There are so many wonderful books out there,” Huerta said. “Maybe we can’t get our hands as quickly as we’d like on one title, but surely there are others that would be of interest to our customers, so we’ve expanded our reach.”

For A Novel Idea, this meant getting creative in a number of ways. Decorations and displays in the storefront are crafted by hand instead of being shipped in. Thrifting is another good way to cut down on costs. Bergstrom said the goal is to make sure the store remains a welcoming place for customers.

“We want people to feel good about coming here,” Bergstrom said. “We’ve tried to keep our prices as low as they have been.”