Bookbinding and Related Work

SIC 2789

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry covers establishments providing edition, trade, job, and library bookbinding and related services, such as paper bronzing, gilding and edging, and mounting of maps and samples. The classification covers only establishments primarily binding books printed elsewhere; establishments binding books printed at the same establishment are classified in SIC 2731: Books: Publishing, or Publishing and Printing and SIC 2732: Book Printing.

Industry Snapshot

While some feared that the Internet would signal a decline in bookbinders' business, no such losses had been realized by the late 2000s. The U.S. Census reported that 1,057 establishments in the United States were engaged in tradebinding and related work in 2007, employing more than 25,110 workers. The future of the industry seemed dependent on whether binders could keep up with the rising technologies that were flooding the market in the early twenty-first century.

Organization and Structure

Bookbinding falls into several categories: edition (large runs), job binding (short runs), library, pamphlet, manifold (business forms or ledgers), and blankbook binding. Highly specialized preservation bookbinders usually attempt to restore original bindings of old books. Bookbinders are generally also involved in postpress work, including collating, perforating, folding, gluing, die-cutting, stamping, and other operations.

Three of the major associations concerned with bookbinding in the late 2000s were the Book Manufacturers Institute, the Bookbinders' Guild of New York, and the Binding Industries Association.

Background and Development

Until the 1980s, few developments were made in the binding process, although more establishments emerged in response to increased demand for magazines and books. In 1988, Otava Publishing in Finland introduced the United States to a binding process called Otabind, which enables books to stay open and lie flat without damaging the spine of the book. The process was invented in 1980 and has since been used increasingly throughout Europe. Otabind proved highly valuable to trade printers who produce computer manuals, which were previously made with costly spinal binders. The predecessors to Otabind were the centuries-old casebinding, wherein cases (folded sheets of paper) were stitched together, and perfect-binding, a modern innovation that applied durable adhesives directly to the edge of unfolded paper, replacing the time-consuming folding and stitching process.

Given the expense of new machines and adhesives needed to implement the Otabind process, it was slow to gain popularity with binders. In order to justify costs, binders needed to take on large runs using Otabind. This problem was reduced with the introduction of RepKover, which means reinforced paperback cover and uses cloth strips for pre-assembly of covers, allowing printers to send partially bound books to a binder for Otabinding. This has enabled binders to accept numerous small orders, adding up to a large run. By the end of the 1990s, a number of versions of the Otabind process were in use throughout the United States.

New equipment to improve binding included Xerox's ChannelBind System that provided 2.5 tons of clamping force; the Muller Martini Trendbinder; the BQ-440 perfect binder; and the Profinish CT-1000 casing machine that doubled the amount of hand production from 50 to 100 per hour. Bindery equipment manufacturers all emphasized equipment that utilized digital technology to integrate components, simplify set-up steps, and boost productivity. In the mid-1990s, new saddle-stitching systems were introduced, among them the Stahl USA ST-90 with the capability of converting untrimmed signatures into completed books.

Other significant innovations in this industry have come from the use of new adhesives and less labor-intensive machines. Polyurethane resin (PUR) added durability to bindings, and Polyvinyl acetate (PVA) added flexibility. PVA proved valuable in manufacturing because it can be applied cold. Less labor-intensive machines have also appeared in binderies in response to employee health problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, that resulted from hand gathering and feeding.

The traditional customer base for bookbinderies was centered in the library market, binding periodicals and books for libraries shelving systems. In the late 1990s, however, bookbinderies were shifting an increasing proportion of their business to commercial printers. In many cases, this lead to the wholesale integration of binding activities into the printers' operations.

Bookbinders themselves also expanded their capacity during this period, as well as integrating more technologically sophisticated operations into their facilities. Changes occurred both in the processing and the promotion of bindery products and services, among them targeted advertising and increased distribution. General binding and finishing were among the top services provided in-house at many small commercial and quick printers. Guillotine cutters found a home as an accessory for on-demand color printers and direct-imaging presses.

During the 1990s, concerns arose over the education and safety of employees. The rapid technological changes in the industry required employee training and specialized education. Employee safety became increasingly important with discoveries that the new adhesives were hazardous to air quality. This factor also gained the attention of customers, who were concerned about the contents of the chemicals used in the binding process and the environmental consequences of getting rid of bound materials. There was some concern regarding recycling ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), which is a hot-melt adhesive preferred for its excellent adhesion to a variety of paper and cardboard stocks. Water dispersible hot melt adhesives were the only type that could be repulped. In the late 1990s, chemical manufacturers successfully negotiated with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to avoid a rewrite of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was expected to translate into significantly increased operating costs for bookbinders. In place of a rewrite, chemical manufacturers tested high-production volume (HPV) chemicals to ensure their safe exposure levels. Furthermore, greater consumer awareness of environmental hazards posed by chemical levels spurred the bookbinding industry to turn away from traditional solvents toward "green" materials such as thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs).

One of the most significant trends in the bookbinding industry in the mid-2000s was the growth in levels of automation and increased use of technology. Computer-operated "in-line" equipment was able to perform a number of operations in sequence, beginning with the presses' output and ending with a finished product. Technological advances such as automatic tabbers, counters, palletizers, and joggers reduced labor requirements and induced some printing companies to buy their own in-house binding and finishing equipment and hire permanent staff to operate it. These kinds of changes made it more likely for the binders to meet the rising demand for shorter run lengths and quicker turnaround times. Companies who did go to automated system had to pay a price, since some fully automated bindery machines in the mid-2000s cost more than $100,000.

A significant benefit of automated bindery systems was the decreased need for human labor and the associated decline in payroll expenses. Due to the fact that many companies were automating in the mid-2000s, employment in the bookbinding industry was expected to decline through 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Current Conditions

According to Dun and Bradstreet's (D&B) 2009 Industry Reports, 1,310 establishments employed 17,741 workers in the bookbinding and related work industry in the late 2000s. Almost 92 percent of firms were small, employing fewer than 50 workers. D&B estimated annual sales to be $1.16 billion in 2008. That year, California accounted for the highest percentage of revenues, with $202.4 million, followed by Illinois with $120.2 million and New Jersey with $102.2 million. Rounding out the top five states in terms of revenue were New York ($91.1 million) and Pennsylvania ($52.5 million). California was also number one in terms of employment, with 2,435 workers in the industry. Illinois had 2,189 and New Jersey, 1,238.

One important trend in the bookmaking industry in the late 2000s was the increase in "on-demand" printing. On-demand printing refers to a company's ability to print and bind a very small number of books quickly, usually using digital technology. Part of the reason for the increase in books on demand was the waste the book industry was experiencing. One estimate stated that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, 60 percent of all paperbacks and 40 percent of hardback books produced were never sold. Those unsold products were discarded and recycled as paper waste. Associated costs included storage and warehouse expenses, waste from with large-volume output using traditional offset printing methods, and expenses from the return process.

Another problem contributing to on-demand printing was consumers' and librarians' frustration with books going out of print and becoming unavailable. With digital technology, a book need never go out of print. When digital printing of books hit the scene in the mid-1990s, the concentration was on scientific, technical, and medical books, and many people were skeptical of its ability to be cost-efficient. However, by the late 2000s it was possible to economically print and bind even a single copy of a book according to customer demand.

By the late 2000s, consumers could print and bind their own books on demand. On Demand Books LLC launched its Espresso Book Machine, which could print and bind a 300-page book in about five minutes. In addition, companies such as Lightning Source Inc. grew exponentially. Based in LaVergne, Tennessee, Lightning Source was one of the largest digital libraries in the world with more than 500,000 orderable titles. It printed and bound, on average, 50,000 books a day in 2009.

Quality control remained one of the biggest issues in bindery in the 2000s, and manufacturers worked to create machines that could check the accuracy and quality of a bound product without a human eye. For instance, top of the line saddlestitchers had detectors that could automatically eject misfeeds or incorrect copies without halting production, and some even stopped sending sections to the incomplete copy to reduce waste. A more extreme example of new technology was shown by Acme Bookbinding, which used a cloth-cutting robot. This robot, made by Mechatronics of New York, held 96 rolls of cloth and cut the right size and color of cover for every book going through it. Yet another innovation in the 2000s was the use of bar codes for maintaining product integrity and verifying accurate gathering. Once the forms were loaded into the folder, stitcher, or binder, bar-code readers recorded data from each sheet or signature and verified that there was a "match," that is, that they had been gathered in the right order from the previous one.

Polyurethane resin (PUR) was revered for its strength, ability to bond with such problematic surfaces as coatings and plastics, and flexibility, which enabled books to lie flat while opened. The cost of PUR, however, restricted its use to large runs and specialty printing. In 2007, PUR cost about $4.50 per pound, compared to the $1.30 per pound averaged by ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). In addition, PUR was more difficult to apply and took longer to cure than other adhesives. But new generations of PUR retained its advantages while eliminating less desirable characteristics, making the adhesive more feasible for use in shorter run markets in the late 2000s.

Industry Leaders

Leading firms in the bookbinding industry in the late 2000s included Bindagraphics Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland, a privately owned company and the largest bookbinder on the east coast, according to the firm's web site. Reindl Bindery Company of Glendale, Wisconsin, was a family-owned business founded in 1978; and Universal Printing Co., Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri, provided a variety of related services in addition to bookbinding.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the tradebinding and related work industry employed 25,100 people in 2007. About 79 percent were production workers. In the mid-2000s figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that almost 92 percent of workers in the industry were bindery workers and 8 percent were skilled bookbinders. Most (more than three out of four) bindery jobs were in commercial printing plants. Because of the increase in new technology in the industry during the 2000s, computer skills and mechanical aptitude were becoming more important for bindery workers.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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