Who Will Pay for Digital Book Binding Quality?
I have a friend who has been in digital book production since the "early days." His shop turns out both short-run, soft-cover books, and (smaller) amounts of hard-cover books every day. All book printing is done on toner-based digital cut-sheet printers.
He's got a very functional bindery, with several four-clamp, short-run binders, and some manual case-making and casing-in machines. Like many digital shops, he has used hot-melt EVA adhesives for his soft-cover binding. But in an effort to turn-out a higher-quality book (for higher-quality markets), he turned to PUR adhesive. Now PUR (polyurethane-reactive) has been touted by the adhesive folks as the answer to a bookbinder's problems with digitally-printed stock. Not to mention the claims for its longevity.
Well, the results were (as we say) mixed. PUR requires a bit more fussing than standard hotmelt. Book spine preparation is more critical, as is the application technology and even the amount (thickness) of the glue layer. My friend and I decided that, in the end, nothing beats a sewn book block for the ultimate in quality and longevity. But...here's the rub. First, although there are a fair amount of book sewing systems for offset signatures, your choices narrow when it comes to digital work. Digitally-printed sheets are just that, sheets. So they must be folded for sewing to each other.
The machines that combine folding, collecting, and sewing are not cheap; they're well north of $100,000. So now we have a real dilemma. The cost for producing a sewn book that's digitally printed, adds a considerable lift to the overall production price. Now there are certain markets, school yearbooks, some wedding albums, and higher-quality hardcovers which demand sewing. And in those one-off segments, price is not such an issue.
But for other segments, it's a harder sell. In an era of instant digital access to an entire universe of content (including books), who will pay the premium, (and recognize the value) of a physical book that can last a 100 years? Good question.