Archives for the month of: April, 2018

Hardly really a binding style: all that needs to be done is drill holes down through a pile of loose pages along the spine edge, so they can be inserted into a ring binder. There are however quite a few publications which are supplied this way. These will mostly be in subject areas in which the data changes frequently, necessitating updates. The drilled pages will tend to be shrink-wrapped and shipped to subscribers who will have had the binder supplied along with the first edition of the pages, and will swap out redundant material. Law publishing is an example of the sort of subject area where this technique may be appropriate.

For other binding styles, please search for “binding styles”


You can do this type of mechanical binding yourself — if you buy the machine. They can be found lurking in forgotten corners of many offices. Holes get punched in the spine edge of the book block (in the office you’d no doubt be starting with a stack of loose sheets; in a bindery the spine fold will have to be cut off), and then the machine opens up the comb and fits it through the holes, allowing it to snap back and make a book.

1. The machine opens the comb

2. The comb ends go through the holes

3. The rings close

4. The finished product











Obviously, if you need an edition running into the thousands, or even hundreds, and it has to lie flat while readers consult it with hands full of the stuff they’re studying, you will want to go to one of the (relatively) few book manufacturers who offer this type of binding. For an additional cost you can get the book title etc. silk-screened on the outside of the comb, so it can be picked out on the shelf.

The pictures are from Wikipedia.

For other styles of binding search “binding styles”.

The target on this topic keeps moving as year succeeds year, but the tale told remains relatively consistent. Self-published authors are doing more and more books and making more and more money. The site Author Earnings tracks all this, (with a bit of rhetorical bias against traditional publishing, though that does not affect the validity of their data) and here I select a few snapshots from the last couple of years to show how things are going.

I don’t know whether this chart is encouraging or not. I guess we might take $50,000 as a sort of decent wage level, and this seems to show that there are almost 3,000 authors reaching that level on the basis of ebook sales alone in 2015. Not too shabby really. Also evident is the way the blue column overtakes the purple one as we focus more and more on recent data.

Author Earnings discuss the results of their research in considerable depth. As they say “The leftmost set of bars in every chart [their piece shows several charts covering different sales levels] includes all authors earning at or above a given level, regardless of their earliest publication date. The left-most purple bar is thus where we’ll find traditional publishing’s longest-tenured and highest-selling authors: names like James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Lee Child, David Baldacci, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, and Stephen King.

The left-most blue bar is also worth a mention. Prior to 2009 indie authors were a niche phenomenon, with very limited access to mainstream readers. Six short years later, there are more than half as many indie authors earning steady midlist-or-better incomes from their Kindle ebook bestsellers as there are among ALL traditionally-published authors — even with all of those perennial traditional-publishing name-brand heavyweights, who spent decades atop the old-media best seller lists, also tipping the ebook scales.

So let’s take a look at the other sets of bars, moving across the charts from left to right, because that’s where things start to get really interesting.

When you look only at authors who started publishing less than a decade ago — in 2005 or later — the gap between the numbers of indie and traditionally published authors earning midlist-or-better incomes nearly disappears. Fast work, considering that none of those indies had widespread access to readers until 2010, giving their traditionally-published cohort-mates a five-year head start.

In fact, if we look at only authors who debuted in the “ebook era” — i.e. in 2010 or after — we see a reversal. At each annual earnings level, we find far more indies than traditionally-published authors who debuted in the last 5 years and are now earning that much or more.”

Here from a subsequent Author Earnings 2016 report is a similar chart showing the results at $10,000 for all formats of book.

Author Earnings’ Data Guy points out many authors enjoying significant sales in good-selling categories are not represented in this picture because the data they collect from Amazon is based only on the top 100 in any category*. The 101st book in romance say, may well sell more than most of the books in some other category. Recent moves by traditional publishers to increase the prices of their e-books must at least have led to a decline in unit sales (maybe $ sales also) though one might think its effect would be evident across all the columns. Firm information is this area is naturally rather hard to come by, though this of course doesn’t stop people speculating about trends. The temptation to regard any of this as saying anything about print should be resisted.

Jeff Bezos just revealed in his annual letter to shareholders for 2018 that over 1,000 Kindle Direct Publishing authors earned over $100,000 in royalties in 2017. Wow! How many of traditional publishing’s authors got that much? This chart from Author Earnings 2016 report suggests that it can’t be too many.

No question, self publishing is a category which is growing by leaps and bounds. There still remains a huge market for books from traditional publishers, and there remain thousands of active and aspiring authors who seek the validation of publication by a traditional publishing house.  But will there come a tipping point when the volume remaining for the traditional publishing business is just too small to support their infrastructure? You can’t answer with a definitive “No”, but nevertheless you’d be hard pressed to say “Yes” and believe that that point was likely to come any time soon.

See Author earnings for some individual high earners.


* And doesn’t include data from the old-fashioned bookstore channel plus other non-Amazon sales, which might alter the size of the gaps between them but probably wouldn’t change the relationship of indie/traditional publishing.


Wire-O books from Wikipedia

Generically called double-wire binding, because two metal wires go through each of the holes drilled through the book block, Wire-O sounds like a trade name, though I can’t find that it was.

Depending on thickness of book there are two “pitches” of Wire-O, meaning two different numbers of holes per inch. For smaller books 2 holes per inch, and for larger ones 3. Two-pitch wires will be used up to 9/16″ bulk, while 3-pitch can go up to 1¼”. As with all other mechanical binding techniques the folds down the spine will be chopped off and holes drilled through the book block.

Normally the cover is treated in the same way as the other pages: i.e. any cover spine is chopped off. But one of the neat features of Wire-O is that you can, by dint of cunning folding, do a book with a spine left in situ, so that when the book is on the shelf you can identify it, not just see an array of wires. This picture, from Print Finishing Specialities, shows the idea clearly.









For other styles of binding search “binding styles”.

Via the SHARP listserv, Nicholas Weir-Williams sends us this link to a BBC quiz program, “The Unbelievable Truth”: Episode 1, Series 20, The Unbelievable Truth – BBC Radio 4. The point of the program is to detect the five truthful statements made by contestants in their largely nonsensical presentations on various subjects. This edition of the program features one section on Books. It’s the third part of the program, and falls about fifteen minutes in. I think it’s quite useful to listen to the sections on Police and Submarines in order to get the hang of things. Following Books we have Spiders.

Shelf Awareness’ 11 April issue tells us: “The American Library Association released its annual Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books, included in the ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2018, which ‘affirms the invaluable role libraries and library workers play within their communities by leading efforts to transform lives through education and lifelong learning.'”

“According to the report, libraries continue to face challenges — including the potential for censorship — to a variety of books, programs and materials. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2017. Some individual challenges resulted in requests to restrict or remove multiple titles or collections. OIF estimates that 82%-97% of challenges remain unreported. Overall in 2017, 416 books were targeted–direct attacks on the freedom to read. The most frequently challenged titles last year were:”

Alii alia sentiunt, though I guess one can understand a parent wanting to protect their child from all the “bad stuff” that goes on in the world. The kids of course all know a lot more than their puritanical parents think, and are by nature more tolerant, but that can hardly be used as an argument for not trying to protect them against ideas parents don’t like. We, the enlightened, know that knowledge is good, no matter what its subject matter, and that the way to promote understanding is, well, understanding. Reading about something we disapprove of is maybe a duty we should all assume every now and then. Fear of the unknown can be relieved by changing the unknown into the known. We liberals all know what’s good for others, don’t we? Yet I dare say there are lots of liberal parents who’d like to prevent their children reading stuff like Atlas Shrugged or Guns and Ammo magazine.

Here’s a link to The Guardian‘s take on the news.

We are all being forced to recognize that all this suppression of dissenting points of view is driving the confronting groups to ever more extreme positions. The Guardian tells us that there were 23 reported hate crimes in libraries in 2017, ranging from the scrawling of swastikas on library walls to the destruction of Muslim religious texts. If only these idiots would sit down and read about the groups they fear so groundlessly.



Basically spiral binding just consists of a screwy wire passed though a series of holes up the spine of the book. This picture from MGX Copy in San Diego illustrates it clearly. Of course the inserting will be by machine, not in this handcraft fashion. Spiral is the most common type of mechanical binding.

Mechanical binding. There are four primary types of mechanical binding: spiral binding, metal wire binding, plastic comb binding, and loose-leaf binding. One might argue that side-wire binding should be included under the mechanical rubric, but it’s not. The commonality appears to be the drilling of holes. It’s not clear where the term mechanical binding comes from: paradoxically mechanical binding is in essence the least mechanized method of binding a book. One might hypothesize that in the dim and distant there was a moment when these methods had been developed while most book binding was still hand binding. Not sure that makes any sense though. Maybe the term originates in the office where it might be regarded as more mechanical than just putting a rubber band round a bunch of pages, and the term stuck with the methods when they moved into the bindery. Just like “perfect” as an epithet is applied to the far from perfect perfect binding method, we may regard “mechanical” as unintentionally ironical.

The thickness of book you can bind via spiral binding is governed by the availability of wires, which may be metal, plastic or plastic-coated metal, so the fattest book you can spiral bind is ⅞”. This style of binding will be used for a book which has to lie flat when opened. However when the book is opened the facing pages will not align because the one on the left will be a little bit further up the spiral wire. If this is a problem, look elsewhere.

For other binding styles please search for “binding styles”.

One of the bugbears of perfect binding (well, more accurately of reading a perfect bound book) is the tendency of the book to want to stay shut, to mouse-trap. Unless you crack the spine — unsurprisingly something that I hate to do (as someone who’s spent so many hours trying to get these objects made perfectly, I seem to aim for my having read a book to remain undetectable to the next reader) — most paperbacks and many hardbacks will try to snap back. This is because the pages are glued to the cover all down the spine (or in the case of a hardback to a liner, more flexible than a paperback cover but still a force for rigidity) and the cover just doesn’t want to stay open unless you break the spine bond by cracking the book wide open. Cracking the spine will of course encourage pages to fall out. Printing the book cross-grain will exacerbate the mouse-trapping problem.

Ota-Bind picture from Edwards Bros. Malloy.

The generic name for the Ota-Bind solution to this problem is lay flat binding. (Should of course be lie flat, but that ship appears to have sailed a long time ago.) Ota-Bind, which was first patented by a Finnish firm, Otavia, in 1981, works by in effect applying a second mini-cover before putting on the main one, so that the individual pages are affixed to the inner, flexible cover, not to the cover proper. The cover proper is not glued in the spine area so that the pages of the book can rise away from the cover when the book is opened. Given this extra step Ota-Bind does cost more than basic binding, but for many books this stay-open-ness is important enough that the cost is justifiable. Things like lab manuals  have to stay open — you can’t be diving for the book as it closes while you are working with a bunsen burner — and Ota-Bind will probably be cheaper than Wire-O, or plastic comb binding. A good discussion of the method can be found at Hyphen Books. RepKover seems to have been an early trade name for the process in USA — why do we persist in these idiotic misspellings in trade names?

The Oxford hollow is another way of encouraging a book to lie flat, but like almost everything else, because it costs more and slows down the binding process, it is only used in the most de-luxe situations, e.g. leather bound bibles.

For other styles of binding search “binding styles”.

Unusual to find a 16th century printed page together with the woodcut responsible for it. This picture of a type of lettuce from Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s Herbal was printed in 1562 and hand colored. Here’s the page, and below it the hand-cut woodblock from which it was printed. The type below would be locked up in the forme along with the woodcut, and the heading type, plus any other pages being printed in the same impression.

These pictures come from the Folger Library’s exhibition Beyond Words: Book Illustration in the Age of Shakespeare, which runs from 24 February to 3 June 2018.

Interpreting the block is one of these duck/rabbit problems. Until you see what’s raised and what’s recessed, your eye insists on seeing it the other way round. Remember the black lines, in order to pick up the ink and transfer it to the paper, have to be higher than the background which has been cut away. Interestingly Folger tells us that after this job was completed the block was reused and has a portrait carved into the other side.

Maybe such woodcut survivals are more common than I had imagined. Here’s another one from an earlier work by Mattioli which appears on his Wikipedia page.

But isn’t textbook publishing in trouble? Such trouble that any takeover at this time would end up being a sort of distress sale rather than otherwise. Aren’t big textbook publishing companies busily investing in an attempt to turn into digital companies, moving away from books and towards on-line learning?

Joe Esposito, in his recent post at The Scholarly Kitchen, suggests we watch for big academic publishers to move in on the textbook world. If, as there no doubt really is, there really exists a market for e-learning, then surely one might expect his suggestion that the acquirer might be Microsoft to be closer to the mark. I dare say Mr Esposito is familiar with textbook publishers’ efforts to get themselves on-line and can judge that they are likely to work out, and can judge that if book publishers were to move fast enough, they could head off the tech guys. Let’s hope. It all sounds a bit like talk a few years ago of setting up an online retail operation that could preempt Amazon.