Bookbinders, Take Heart!

Early on in my youth, I worked at a New York City printer that offered letterpress shop printing for rare coin and stamp dealers. Our presses? Heidelberg cylinder letterpresses. I can recall these presses chugging away, and the Mergenthaler hot-lead typesetting machines in prepress.

Needless to say, that’s all gone now. So it was with some amazement that I learned that these presses are still in some demand and being used today. Why? Well, letterpress print quality is still the “gold standard.” And it turns out that there are lots of small boutique design and print shops offering invitations, business cards, and high-end marketing materials (art galleries, etc.) where this type of quality is in demand. Sure, you will pay more, but you will always pay more for the best.

Likewise, the art of quality bookbinding is very much alive. Mind you, this is a trade that’s been in existence for many hundreds of years, preceding the invention of the printing press. Although e-books and other digital media have taken their share of the book market, hard-cover books are not going anywhere soon.

The very permanence, beauty, and longevity of printed books versus their digital counterparts make them valuable in their own right. Witness the success of photo books, memory books, and others. There are very traditional bookbinding courses that are still being taught at various institutions. Amazingly, these are very well-attended (and in some cases full as soon as they’re announced). Craft binderies performing repairs, restorations, specialty binding (such as thesis binding) are generally doing pretty well. Self-published titles have exploded. While this is not the easiest segment to deal with from a production standpoint, it still represents a huge increase in the number of books to be bound.

Hard-cover production is shifting more and more to an “on-demand” model, which has lifted the sales of vendors manufacturing modular machines that can make cases and case-in hard-cover books in small quantities. So bookbinders need to take heart! Yours is a craft that is still much in demand, very well appreciated, and will be around for a long time.

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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