Hard-cover case making and binding is a craft that goes back centuries. And still today, there are shops that create beautiful leather-bound, gold-embossed volumes designed to last forever. The skills needed to produce these works of art for your library cannot be mastered in months. Instead, it takes years to become a master bookbinder.
Books were originally “luxury” items, affordable only by the very well-off. Perfect binding was patented in 1887, and hard-cover books gradually became mass-market items. In the following decades, heavy machinery was developed that could turn out about 60 complete hardcovers a minute. Because of the cost of setting up production, publishers had to commit to minimum orders that were fairly sizeable.
Enter the e-book. There’s no doubt that a sizeable chunk of hard-cover production disappeared after the intro of high-quality e-readers. While hard-cover books are not going away anytime soon, much of today’s output is based on the very short-run “on-demand” model based on inventory control and by the demands of the self-publishing segment. Today’s production depends on small quantities with quick turnaround and ship times.
So instead of investing in multi-million dollar machinery, today’s book printers and binders have created small modular work cells which can change case, cover, and book block sizes in minutes. But there aren’t a whole lot of master bookbinders floating around in the marketplace right now, so another challenge is getting workers to produce high-quality hardcovers without having the benefit of a long training course or apprenticeship.