Archives for category: Book manufacturing

A little commercial for Uppercase, a Canadian craft magazine.

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The jacket is a nice touch, fold it four ways for a different look every time. “Beautiful, inspiring, informative” it may well be, but having that four-ways jacket forces you into printing a belly band, which increases your cost, as does the jacket itself, since there’s perfectly adequate paperback cover under it all. Actually, you could, couldn’t you, print the title four times on the front of your four jackets? Still, of course, as a craftsperson your motivation is liable to be different from that of a greedy publisher.

Thanks to Ilene Kalish for the link.

Flipback® in English, apparently the dwarsligger® was invented in the Netherlands (dwars = crossways, liggen = to lie). These books are designed to be the size of a cellphone and to be read in one hand, with the pages in landscape view. Dutton Young Readers have just published the first batch in USA, four volumes by John Green. The New York Times has a story — reaching which may require a subscription I fear.

I’m not sure that the dwars bit is absolutely essential, but it does permit a longer line than two pages in upright alignment would, so probably allows a larger type size. The books are printed on thin paper and appear from the video at their creators’ website (linked to above) to be bound by the Ota-Bind method so that they lie open. I do think this is an important innovation; and we thought a book was a book was a book. The format sounds perfect for reading on the subway, although I suspect you’ll probably have to let go of the pole to turn the page. I suppose that flicking through them in the same sort of sequence that reading on a smart phone represents may be a plus for a phone-philiac audience. The gif above is going a bit too fast, but you can see that the verso half of the page has no folio, so each opening is counted as one page.

Apparently dwarsliggers are already quite popular in Europe where 570 titles have been issued in this format in the Netherlands alone. Shrinking books does make superficial sense: less paper, handier; but you’ll have to look for a press optimized for the unusual page size. Picador published a series of mini books to celebrate their twentieth anniversary three years ago. They have already published a second batch. Penguin also published a series of mini books to celebrate their 60th anniversary in 1995, though these were slightly larger, and like the Picador books, conventionally paginated. Books for soldiers in World War II were just printed in digest size and chopped in half. Dwarsliggers are all being printed by a single Dutch manufacturer, Royal Jongbloed, who started out as bible printers and originated the dwarsligger format in 2009. They are using a Finnish bible paper. There would seem to be no inherent reason why a US bible manufacturer should not print them too. They can register a trade mark, but surely Royal Jongbloed can’t have gotten a patent, can they?

Well, more like doubling — by the announcement last week of an agreement for the purchase of LSC (the old R. R. Donnelly book manufacturing business) Quad/Graphics took a large leap forward from a $4.2 billion to an $8.1 billion company. Quad was founded in 1971 when Harry V. Quadracci took out a second mortgage on his house, left W. A. Krueger Company, and founded his own printing business in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

Clicking on this image (taken from the Printing Impressions report) will enable you to read why the acquisition is “a good thing”.

The deal is expected to complete in mid-2019, and will make Quad/Graphics the biggest printer in North America moving it ahead of R. R. Donnelley.

For a league table of book manufacturers see this post from earlier this year. The rankings are undisturbed by this news — Quad/Graphics was top already. Number five has disappeared and probably number four has been overtaken according to news of the recent purchase of Webcom by Marquis Book Printing as reported by Printing Impressions. The Quad/Graphics acquisition is significant also in the magazine printing business.

LATER: Here’s D. Eadward Tree’s reaction from Publishing Executive.

Via Twitter Erik Kwakkel sends these pictures together with the information that before anyone thought of creating a title page at the front of the book, they would give the “publication” details in a colophon at the back. This practice was taken over from the manuscript tradition.

Illustrated is a Bible Commentary which, according to Professor Kwakkel, was printed in Nuremberg in 1487. Printer’s errors seem to have a long and noble tradition: isn’t there a typo in the date? Or is this actually a manuscript created in 1387? Hard to tell without seeing it up close. I couldn’t track it down at the University of Leiden’s library using the call number quoted, Groenh. 014. The rubrication would be done by hand even if the black was printed.

The European Book in the Twelfth Century, edited by Professor Kwakkel and Rodney Thomson, has just been published by Cambridge University Press.


See my earlier post on Edwards Brothers Malloy’s closing.

I hadn’t realized that a belly band was really a sartorial item, reputed to ease lower back pain especially during pregnancy. This band of cloth around the belly puts me in mind of a cummerbund, something I’m more familiar with. I’d always assumed it had something to to with Kummer, German for worries, care, grief: as in “Why is it I’m so fat?”. It doesn’t. It actually comes from the Urdu, Kammar-band meaning a loin band according to The Oxford English Dictionary. They also remind us that a belly band may be found on a horse pulling a cart, on a sail, or a kite.

To me, however, a belly band is a tiny jacket wrapped around a book outside the jacket which is already there — a meaning which the OED doesn’t acknowledge: but then their entry on this word hasn’t been updated since 1887.

Belly bands on books are actually rather a pain in the neck. As a reader do you feel you have to keep the belly band? If so, how to prevent its getting torn or lost? If not, what was the point in the first place? Why do publishers use them? Mostly, I believe, to make the book stand out. But if your reason is just point of sale impact, it’s got to be a big point, a great quote. With the one shown in the picture the publisher took the opportunity to define the title on the back of the belly band — but of course they could have done that more cheaply on the jacket itself.

Maybe you get a quote from the ideal booster at the last minute: though I’m not sure Gyles Brandreth’s words are likely to make anyone buy Christian Bök’s OULIPO-esque tour de force of five pieces each omitting one vowel. When you get this rave quote, life being what it is, the book is bound to be bound and already on its way to the warehouse. So we’ll give it a belly band. But that quote’s got to be really good to make a belly band worth doing. Quite apart from designing and printing the band itself, you’ve got to get it onto the books. Touching a book after it’s been delivered to the warehouse is staggeringly expensive these days: let’s say adding a belly band after completion is going to cost you approaching $2 for every copy. Adding one before completion will be less — apart from the trivial printing cost, it’ll only be the cost of wrapping a little second jacket, a matter of pennies. But pennies are pennies and for me at least are wasted in this instance. But then so too is the ribbon marker the publisher has provided. I’d much rather have had these pennies directed towards binding the book in a decent bit of cloth instead of the black paper they chose as case covering material. But then we all have our manias. Perhaps my main point is that my buying decision was not based on any frills like these — I bought it (secondhand and in mint condition) because it was recommended by Al Filreis in his ModPo* MOOC. So for me appearances were irrelevant: I suspect that’s probably true of most Eunoia purchasers.

It’s nice how it looks as if you’re seeing through the belly band to the dropped out vowels on the jacket. You aren’t; the vowels are dropped out of a grey tint on the belly band too. Obviously I was meant to align the thing a bit lower on the book to take my photo.

Despite all my disapproval I have to assume that Canongate knew what they were doing when they gave this book a belly band. I hope it worked — these sort of books have to be published. And if the bells and whistles really helped the books move off the shelves, great.

An unusual vertically aligned belly band may be seen here.


* See the footnote to this earlier post. A picture of page 30 of Bök’s book may be seen here.


You get them all the time in magazines, and quite often in books.

Here’s an example provided by Neglected Books.* What Simon and Schuster were after was not of course your opinion on the book. What they wanted was your name and address so as to add you to their mailing list.


Library of America tends to have one in each of their volumes. I use them as bookmarks — I can never be bothered with those ribbon markers. The LOA cards are explicitly asking for your name for their mailing list, but they also ask that question about how you heard about the book. I wonder how much attention they pay to the answers: it’s nice to know your readers heard about the book through a book review, but is knowing this going to make you send out more review copies? I suspect the cost of recording the data is more than any value to be gained from it.

Blow-in cards are usually randomly blown into a magazine by a special attachment to the line. Book manufacturing lines tend not to include this facility which is much less commonly required, and thus blow-ins in books will more likely have been inserted by hand at the same time as the jacket is being put on.

More rarely you may find advertisements printed in the back of a book. Usually these are merely ads for other books from the same publisher, but ads for other products were energetically solicited by book publishers in the sixties and seventies of the last century, and during Victorian times. The Digital Reader has an account of the history and new on-line initiatives.

Photo: Toptenz



* Neglected Books is a great site that deserves more attention that this aside. They direct attention onto forgotten books and authors. Nowadays, with the availability short-run techniques and ebook publication making the cost of republishing a book much less than it once was, this site is no doubt being followed by lots of publishers.

Digital printing is made up of two separate approaches. There are toner-based systems, and ink jet systems. The toner side is better established, having been a growing factor in book work for the past 25 years. Ink jet is just beginning to get established as the primary technology for books, though it has been around for about as long.

There’s no doubt now that digital printing is a solid part of the book manufacturing scene. Not only can publishers print fewer and fewer copies — a highly desirable ability in uncertain times — but the quality of digital print is now every bit as good as offset, and in some respects I’d argue, superior. For instance the catalog for The New York Book Industry Guild’s 2015 Annual Book Show was printed digitally (ink jet) for the first time: see the photo below. In an offset world the pale blue tints — made up of tiny dots of blue ink — which appear on almost every page would have been difficult to hold consistent, as their color would be affected by the colors used on the rest of each individual page. Some photos will call for more blue ink, others for more yellow etc. In an offset job, to serve that need more blue, or yellow ink will need to be delivered to that area. This ink can’t instantly disappear when the press revolves on to the next part of the book needing to be printed. If that’s just a page of black text, no problem, but if it’s a color tint, the ink buildup needed for individual halftones would make the background tint vary slightly from one track to another. On a digital press the ink deposited can be exactly right every time. (See Printing methods.)

Here’s a report on a 2016 Ricoh seminar from Book Business Magazine. which projects steady growth in digital printing. Notable in the projections, regardless of whether you think the projections are too high or too low, is the contrast between percentage of production and percentage of sales volume. Avoidance of unsold inventory is going to loom larger and larger in publishers’ planning.

Digital printing first made its appearance in the office environment, and was soon adopted for short-run book manufacturing. Initially this was available only for black and white work — which of course means about 90% of serious books — and this made it initially ideal for academic publishing. I recently discovered a couple of memos I wrote in 1982 in which I advocated for the setting up in our warehouse of a digital print engine plus a small binding line so that we could print one-off books in response to customer orders. This seems to me to be extraordinarily early for such a thing to be possible, but hey, you can call me a dreamer. In fact the first real digital book printer, Integrated Book Technology, wasn’t established till 1991. I’m not sure when the first on-demand setups in publishers’ warehouses were, but I don’t think it happened earlier than about 2005. Here, from Edwards Brothers Malloy, a pioneer in this regard tragically closing their doors this week, is a neat little illustration of why digital printing works.


In the offset scenario 750 copies are manufactured and paid for. Publishers have long been hung up on the unit cost of production, a number which is often used to in calculating the retail price of the book. But of course the unit cost per copy sold is really the important number; you just don’t happen to know it ahead of time. You may claim that the 350 you hadn’t sold by the end of the 20-month period measured in the EBM scenario will eventually be sold: and so they may, but “eventually” might be a long time, and does come with a cost. Your capital is tied up in slow moving inventory, and you have to keep a warehouse going to house it all. If you don’t print the book till after you’ve received an order, you clearly avoid holding unsold copies in stock, even though each individual copy has cost you more.

BIGNY did a meeting in March, reported on at Book Business Magazine. Perhaps the most important message heard at this meeting relates to the economic difficulties presented by ink jet printing today. Paradoxically a technology which is ideal for shorter and shorter print runs really has an economic model which demands longer runs. The equipment costs a lot, and the per page cost is higher than printers are accustomed to. Maybe, as we have become accustomed to in the era of Moore’s law, both machines, and perhaps most importantly, inks will come down in price. Or perhaps we publishers will get used to paying the economic price for such a convenient technology. Still it’s evident that nobody’s junking their last offset machine just yet.

See also Print on demand.


Edwards Brothers Malloy announced on 31 May that they were closing completely. Publishers Lunch was first with the news, closely followed by Publishers Weekly. Only in February this year EBM had decided to cut back offset operations in their Lillington, NC plant, focussing that part of the business in Ann Arbor, MI. This was to have resulted in the loss of 100 jobs by the end of this year. Obviously a total closure affects many more.

The brief note on their website today (1 June) reads:

It is with heavy hearts we announce that Edwards Brothers Malloy will be closing our doors as of June 15. We are working with prospective buyers for our Fulfillment operation and should have information within the next few days. We continue to operate business as usual and will keep you updated as we have information. If the need arises, we will work with you to retrieve your inventory.

As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for our employees as we work through the process of shutting down our facilities while finishing projects for our customers with work in-house. We do, however, want to take this moment to thank you for your support and business through the years. Our employees and customers have been the cornerstone of our 125-year history.

We wish you all the best going forward.

John Edwards and Bill Upton

Clearly John Edwards’ February assessment of the state of the market “We continue to see shrinking demand for offset printing and double-digit growth in digital printing” has become even worse. But double digit growth in a smaller segment of your business cannot necessarily offset shrinkage in the larger part.

Of course one cannot know the full story of the company’s financial position, but it did look like they were making the right moves. They had an established position in short-to-medium-run offset, and were moving steadily into digital printing in response to demand for ever shorter print runs from their university press and other “serious” publishing customers. They even had a proper print-on-demand operation (making one book at a time). For a number of years they offered to set up a POD line in a publisher’s warehouse, so that “out of print” books could be manufactured while the rest of a customer’s order was being fulfilled from stock, and ship out along with that order. Maybe the problem results from their consolidation/expansion in what is surely a shrinking market.

In the meantime, if you work in the manufacturing department of a publishing house, be alert. EBM is/was our 6th largest book manufacturing supplier. Think where all that work which till a couple of days ago was locked up at Edwards Brothers Malloy is going to go. Talk to your suppliers and book time for your books. Don’t leave it till big shouldered competitors have gobbled up all the press time. We’ve become used to being able to get a reprint in a couple of weeks. Now press capacity is being reduced at the same time as the paper market is becoming tighter. Take care.


A film which wanders about a bit but ends up showing you how things used to be.

The amazing thing to me is the number of people in the works. Labour was king in the days of heavy metal.

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