Director Christie Henry on global supply chain challenges

A note from Princeton University Press Director Christie Henry on remaining adaptive, collaborative, and resilient in the face of global supply challenges.

Dear PUP collaborators,

I hope this finds you pursuing what’s possible and necessary to thrive in these unusual times. I am grateful to be sharing the Scribner Building, our Princeton office, with more PUP colleagues these days, and collectively imagining all of the potential in the next chapter of our publishing narrative, as we transition to a fully hybrid organization and do our best to carry forward the many learnings of these pandemic times.

As you enter PUP’s office, the cathedral-ceilinged entrance hall (named Dougherty Hall in 2017) tells a part of the Press’s history, that of a printing press. The printing presses left the building decades ago, but in the flagstones can still be seen the imprints of these essential tools of bookmaking. Over the last few months, I have thought often about how wonderful it would be to reanimate these presses, to fill Dougherty Hall with the sounds of bookmaking.

PUP today, like nearly all publishers, no longer prints its own books. Instead, we enjoy printer partnerships around the world, a business decision made nearly 30 years ago that purposefully positioned the Press to optimize printer technologies, partnerships, and networks in fulfillment of our mission—to ensure that Press books were contributing to conversations the world over. It would be impossible to meet the print demands of 250 new titles entrusted to us every year, let alone the enormity of engagement with our backlist, nearly 9,000 works. But even if we could print these books ourselves, we’d still be reliant on trucks to deliver them to distribution centers, on boats to transport them across the world as our global reach continues to expand. And we’d need paper for the printers—multitudes of different papers given the diversity of book types we publish and the design elements they include. Each of these essential elements of the publishing alchemy right now is scarce, as is labor throughout the supply chain; the global media has extensively covered this.

While I still find those printer imprints in our flagstone floors an inspiration, our time now is spent optimizing new print technologies and distribution channels and thinking about how to move books across the world in the most sustainable ways. The global supply chain is disrupting flows of all sorts, not only books of course, but food and other life necessities. For those among us who appreciate books as vital nutrients, we will continue to channel many energies toward a resilient system for print books, just as we build strength and impact in digital and audio publishing.

As our authors and collaborators, you entrust so much to us. At the start of the pandemic, we assured you that our commitment to book publishing was unwavering. As we enter the next phase of the pandemic, and supply chain challenges that are evolving just as COVID did, we endeavor to hold our commitments to schedules, to publication dates, and to book availability in all channels—from independent bookstores to online retailers. And yet we know this won’t always be possible, because our partners throughout the publishing lifecycle do not have the resources they need. This may result in longer and dynamic publication schedules, and occasional limited availability of print books as we wait for paper from mills, drivers for trucks, or ports to open to boats.

While we all face external challenges, I write with assurance that the PUP team is vigilant in its assessment of the publishing ecosystem, deeply committed to resilience of the print book, and creative in our adaptive capabilities. We have diversified our global printers, embraced an evolution of printer technologies, and are working in close collaboration with all of our essential partners, from printers to booksellers.

We will also continue to rely on the positive intentions and adaptive abilities of our collaborators—authors, readers, media, and many others—for your compassion and patience as we navigate, like so many, this uncharted and unpredictable terrain. We know that in the pages of PUP books are worlds of knowledge, lands of learning, and ideas of impact. With unwavering enthusiasm and our every expertise, we will work tenaciously to bring these books to the world, in print, digital and audio forms.

And we will continue to do our very best in every endeavor, because that’s what you ask of us, and that’s what you inspire in us.

With boundless gratitude and determination,