Society of
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Bibles—but not Children’s Books—Escape Trump’s Tariffs

by Laurie Miller



Earlier this summer, representatives from dozens of industries affected by President Trump’s latest round of tariffs testified at public hearings held by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR). The hearings gave affected industries a chance to seek exemptions from tariffs slated to go into effect on September 1. Among those testifying were CEOs of several publishing houses and book seller organizations. Unfortunately, it appears that politics and party affiliations factored heavily into which industries were granted exemptions: industries aligned with President Trump’s core base seemed to fare the best.

Bibles and religious texts were exempted from the latest round of tariffs after Evangelical groups and Christian publishers argued that the proposed tariffs would infringe upon the freedom to worship. Salmon and cod (caught in Alaska but processed in China) won an exemption after the state’s Republican senators successfully argued that tariffs would pose an economic security risk to Alaska’s fishing industry. The chemicals used in fracking also escaped tariffs after the oil and gas industry argued that taxing them would threaten America’s energy dominance. Certain agricultural and medical equipment used in cancer treatment were also granted exemptions.

Children’s books, however, did not win an exemption from the tariffs, despite the testimony of CEOs from several publishing houses. “We strategized when this started to happen about which parts of our business would get the attention of the administration,” said Dan Reynolds, CEO of Workman Publishing, which produces nonfiction titles, Bibles, and children’s books. “[We hoped] that by making our case with Bibles and children’s books primarily, that would make all books exempted.” [1]

Although children’s books did not earn an exemption, the deadline for the 10% tariff on children’s books was pushed from September 1 to December 15. The delay was granted to ensure that most children’s books printed in China will be in stores for the holiday season well before the tariffs are imposed. Although this is a good idea in theory, the reality of the industry is that children’s book manufacturers are now facing disruption as publishers scramble to shift printing out of China to other countries in Asia.

Finding new printers is especially problematic for publishers of picture books, as four-color printing is primarily based in China. “There are good color printers in the US and Canada, but they don’t have the capacity to service the entire industry, and their prices are usually twice what you might pay,” said Derek Stordahl, Holiday House’s executive vice president. [2]

Holiday House is moving some of its four-color printing to a partner in Malaysia, but it is facing delays as publishers big and small compete for slots with printers outside of China. “We’re going to miss print dates on some seasonal books that should be in the warehouse for Christmas and Hanukkah because of this chaos in the market,” Stordahl said. [3]

Even if larger bookstores and chains are able to stock up on children’s books before the December 15 tariffs go into effect, small independent stores, as well as schools and libraries, won’t be able to take advantage of the delay due to smaller budgets and smaller amounts of shelf space. At the hearings, Jamie Flacco, president of the American Booksellers Association and owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC, warned that tariffs on books would impose significant and unwarranted roadblocks on creating a vibrant, diverse children’s book section in many bookstores. [4]

However, delays in getting children’s books to market is only part of the problem. Not every publisher will be able to move their manufacturing from China, and the costs of the tariffs will most likely be passed onto consumers. Small independent presses with thin profit margins may choose to both raise prices and reduce royalties. Susanne Woods, the publisher and owner of Lucky Spool Media, a small press that produces illustrated titles, is concerned about the effect of the proposed tariffs on her both her bottom line and her authors. “If I have to increase my manufacturing costs, that means fewer books. That means less money for my authors. It may make little difference to the Big Five, who can find a way to absorb that, but it makes a huge difference to small publishers like me.” [5]

The general message from the publishing industry at the hearings was one of concern and frustration, as US economic policy has historically avoided tariffs on books and educational materials. Lui Simpson, vice president of global publishing for the Association of American Publishers, told the USTR that the proposed tariffs “would upend decades-long US policy of not imposing barriers to the importation of educational, scientific, and cultural material.” [6]

Holiday House’s Stordahl echoed that claim. He doesn’t understand why books are caught in the middle of a US-China trade war that is largely a battle over the future of high-tech industries. “None of this is high tech,” Stordahl said of book printing. “There are no trade secrets here.” [7]

President Trump and the Chinese government are due back at the negotiating table in October. With an election looming, Trump is under pressure to ensure the US economy remains strong. If all goes well, perhaps the latest round of tariffs—which many believe are a tax on readers themselves—will be removed.

1 Bibles but not Text Books: Trump Tariff Winners and Losers

2-3, 7 ‘China is not paying for it’: Trump Tariff Hike Hits Everyone from Beer Brewers to Book Publishers 

4, 6 The Book Industry Speaks Out About Against China Tariffs

5 Books a Target of New China Tariffs


UPDATE: After meeting with Chinese leaders on Friday, October 11, President Trump decided to suspend 250 billion dollars of proposed tariffs that were due to go into effect on October 15. The suspended tariffs do not include the 10% tariff on children’s books that are slated to go into effect on December 15. The December 15 tariffs will be discussed at the next meeting with Chinese leaders in what President Trump is calling ‘’Phase Two” of this latest trade agreement.