Paper Cuts

What Happened to Paper and What You Can Do About It


At CPI, we are proud to work with trusted partners who print and deliver our beautiful benefits materials, such as guides, flyers, postcards, and posters. Unfortunately, like most businesses, they have faced difficulties over the last several years that will have a long-lasting impact.

How we got here


We’re facing unprecedented supply chain challenges. According to Deborah Turner-Allen at Zuza Print, “domestically, the print industry is seeing a shortage of paper unlike we have ever seen.” It started with scarcities of ink and chemicals and disruptions in wood pulp exports, then, delayed shipments from port congestion drove up the price of pulp by more than 50%. All of this means higher costs for both printers and customers.

Changing demand

Pandemic-fueled office shutdowns and remote work caused a drop in demand for paper and created workforce challenges, leading to temporary, and sometimes permanent, plant closures. Responding to the changing needs of the market and the growth of online retailers, many paper mills switched from producing paper to making cardboard packaging for shipping materials.


The industry’s woes have been made worse by global challenges. A combination of delays in freight transportation and increases in fuel costs, has negatively impacted companies by limiting access to foreign paper stock, which drove up prices. If that wasn’t enough, many companies struggled to hire enough truck drivers, further exacerbating the shipping and transportation bottlenecks.

How printers have responded

Stockpiling materials

To meet the needs of their clients, many printers have resorted to amassing paper inventory. However, this has resulted in paper mills rationing sales and shorting orders. Chris Carpenter, President of Royle Printing, shares “It becomes a timing game. We have to get creative with standing inventory. It’s created a lot of work for our people.” Damani Coates, CEO of BCP Digital Printing, says, “It is nothing short of a nightmare. What we have found in the market space is that you have to be greedy.”

Increasing costs

Printers are reporting a substantial increase in their costs. While printers work to minimize the impact to clients, many have been forced to raise rates to keep up.

Creative alternatives

Some strategies printers are employing include talking to their customers about paper alternatives, increased timelines, and careful proofing to avoid reprints.

What you can do

With a few simple steps, you can be ready to navigate an evolving market.  

1. Prepare early 

Planning ahead and estimating appropriately are essential strategies to ensure printers have the stock you need to fulfill your campaigns. Printers are seeing lead times of up to 12 weeks due to high capacity. While shops like Zuza Print are ordering truckloads of paper directly from paper mills, they stress the importance of prescheduling projects, so when you are ready, your paper will be available. Additionally, be sure to schedule in extra time for deliveries if you need to meet a certain mail date.

2. Be flexible

Because of supply shortages, this is a great time to consider creative alternatives. Many printers are urging customers to explore eco-friendly fonts, two-color designs, and different types of paper stock.

3. Go digital

Explore digital communications to reach your employees. Think navigation-enhanced guides, digital postcards, and employee benefits hubs to communicate your benefits to employees. CPI can help!

The Takeaway

While paper, printing, and shipping challenges remain a concern, we’re working to reduce any negative impact on you. With preparation, creativity, and flexibility, we’ll get through this together.


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