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BooksOctober 13, 2020

Seriously, you need to order your Christmas books right now

Santa riding a red scooter
(Photo: iStock via Getty)

An urgent message from our sponsors, Unity Books.

‘Twas two weeks til Christmas and all was amiss, a pandemic had struck and put book stocks at risk. Our books were all coming by cargo ship, because air freight from Aussie was given the snip. So those stockings you hang by the chimney with care, might well have no books – a Christmas nightmare!

All rhymes aside, here is the situation: 

Most of Unity’s Christmas stock comes from Australia and because of Covid, most books supplied from Australia are taking an indefinite hiatus from air freight. For the safety of those at the start of the supply chain, our beloved books are instead making the gusty journey across the Tasman on a cargo ship, which takes three to four weeks longer than by air. 

On top of that, over the last couple of months a long-running pay dispute at the Australian ports escalated into strikes, leaving our precious cargo stranded. Things got intense. Prime minister Scott Morrison accused the Maritime Union of Australia of “a campaign of extortion”, and said the union was holding that country’s imports and exports to ransom. Books held at ransom! Oh, the thought. 

Fortunately for books and Christmas, it seems the strikes have been postponed and the backlog is about to be tackled; a backlog that apparently exceeds 100,000 containers around Australia, mind you. A fortnight ago, the chief executive of the company that employs the workers told media: “My operations team estimate it will take between two and three months to return to normal. Hopefully this means we will avoid shortages of goods at Christmas time.” Which is cool for Australia but when you build in that cross-Tasman marathon, doesn’t quite cut it for our Christmas…

Unity does occasionally have the option of ordering some stock from the UK and US, which right now are outperforming Australian delivery times. But as retail goes into overdrive in the next month we cannot guarantee these alternatives either. And, to be clear: this is an across-the-board problem, by no means limited to Unity stores. It’s been messing with publishing schedules and release dates for months.

(For a while there, it was even worse: books were disembarking in Auckland, nipping off for an adventure down to Hamilton to be cleared by Customs, and then dispersed to Auckland and Wellington for delivery to our stores. That added about two weeks to the delay.)

The upshot is that if you’re after a specific title, you really need to think about buying now. 

We use the word “now” in the most literal sense. “Now” as in today, this afternoon, immediately, straight away, toot sweet, tout de suite, quickly, post-haste, without further ado, and so on. Mid-November at the absolute shambolic latest.

If you come in within the next two weeks and ask us to order Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane because your son’s been waiting his whole life for a book as beautiful as this, we’ll say, “Yes! It will take five to six weeks to arrive – right in time for Christmas.” 

We’ll arrange a lay-by, if the shipping madness has caught your finances by surprise. Then, all boxes ticked, you’ll raise your eyebrows and laugh at how ridiculous things have gotten. You’ll say, full of early festive merriment, “Do you remember when it used to take five days! Ha!” 

And oh, how we will laugh and laugh and laugh. 

Keep going!