Publishers and printers agree that there is not enough capacity in the U.S. to absorb much of the business that is currently being done in China.
With a public hearing set for June 17 on proposed 25 percent tariffs on $300 billion of goods—including books—imported from China, the publishing industry is gearing up to make its case to exclude books from the tax. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) is taking the lead and has requested to make a statement at the hearing. It is working with publishers and other industry members to mitigate the impact of the tariffs as best they can. Lui Simpson, vice president of global policy at AAP, told Publishers Weekly (PW) that the group “will be working in every venue we can” to convey a multipart message.”
One aspect of AAP’s argument to exclude books is that not doing so would interfere with the free flow of information and knowledge, something that is baked into America’s ideals, Simpson said. “Books have social value and are crucial to the exchange of ideas,” she noted, adding that the tariffs could also interfere with religious rights in the U.S., since they apply to Bibles.
From an economic standpoint, Simpson said it is likely that the publishers impacted by the tariffs will pass on some of the costs to booksellers, schools, libraries, and nonprofits geared toward improving literacy. She added that increased book prices could damage the independent bookseller revival.
The American Booksellers Association (ABA) has also submitted a request to make a statement at the June 17 hearing. CEO Oren Teicher said the ABA will work closely with the AAP to ensure that the book industry is “heard loudly and clearly on this matter.”
No one can put an exact dollar figure on the number of books manufactured in China, but all agree that it is substantial; illustrated books and books that require handwork, for example, are almost all produced in China.
Publishers are looking at their supply chain for options, but if the tariffs are imposed, it would be difficult to make major shifts quickly for what could be a one-time, short-lived event. The uncertainty over whether the tariffs will actually be enforced and when the tariffs will take effect makes it especially difficult to develop a firm plan.
The AAP is also arguing that if imposing tariffs on books is, in part, meant to bring printing jobs back to America, it won’t work. Publishers and printers agree that there is not enough capacity in the U.S. to absorb much of the business that is currently being done in China.
One person who doesn’t believe that Trump will blink over imposing the tariffs is Ray Ambriano of Meadows Wye & Co., an international logistics company specializing in the publishing industry. He was at BookExpo last month advising clients that they should prepare for the worst. Ambriano said he has talked with sources in China who doubt that the Chinese government will quickly back down from the tariff threat, pointing to the fact that it is discouraging its citizens from traveling to the U.S. as a sign of its determination to see the trade war through. He added that though publishers might get some books excluded from the tariffs, he doubts that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) would exclude all book categories.
According to PW, Ambriano speculated that the tariffs could begin to take effect one week after the June 17 hearing. AAP’s Simpson thought it would take somewhat longer. She noted that the long list of items the USTR needs to review before making decisions on which products to exclude is likely to slow things down.
Booksellers and wholesalers should also be careful about accepting shipments from any country of books produced in China. For example, if a U.K. publisher had a book printed in China and shipped to its home office, then reshipped it to the U.S., the recipient would still need to pay the tariff.
The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents the leading book, journal, and education publishers in the United States on matters of law and policy, advocating for outcomes that incentivize the publication of creative expression, professional content, and learning solutions. As the voice of American publishers, AAP is dedicated to representing American publishing priorities worldwide and advancing the role of publishers in contemporary society.
Founded in 1900, the American Booksellers Association is a national not-for-profit trade organization that works to help independently owned bookstores grow and succeed. ABA’s core members are key participants in their communities' local economy and culture, and to assist them ABA provides education, information dissemination, business products, and services; creates relevant programs; and engages in public policy, industry, and local first advocacy. The Association actively supports and defends free speech and the First Amendment rights of all Americans. A volunteer board of 11 booksellers governs the Association. ABA is headquartered in White Plains, NY.