Archives for category: Book manufacturing

This is Shelf Awareness’ report from the 1st of May:

BISG Annual Meeting: Dealing with Paper and Printing Problems

A major focus of the Book Industry Study Group’s annual meeting last Friday in New York City was the paper and printing problems that resulted in booksellers having difficulty reordering many popular titles during the holiday season last year. Those problems were what Janet McCarthy Grimm, v-p of Lindenmeyr Book Publishing Papers, called “a perfect storm,” which included paper shortages, fewer printing and binding machines for books, several company collapses, a shortage of qualified workers, trucking and warehouse shortages, all occurring when the printed book has had a resurgence and some titles were in very high demand.

Although there were improvements in the general situation in the first quarter of the year, there is usually “some seasonal downtick at this time,” Grimm added. “When orders pick up, we could switch back to a situation like last year very, very quickly.”

Grimm (r.) and Baehr

Speaking at the session on State of the Supply Chain: Paper and Printing, Grimm emphasized that part of the problem has its roots in decisions in recent years by paper mills, printers and binders to cut back on book-printing capacity because of the consensus that the book business was going to take a digital path similar to that taken by movies and music. Although this hasn’t happened as predicted, the book-making industry hasn’t adjusted well. As Matt Baehr, executive director of the Book Manufacturers’ Institute, put it, “Those exiting the business are not coming back” and existing companies are not adding enough capacity. “No one is investing millions of dollars” in this area, he said.

In some cases, printers that don’t specialize in books are taking on books as a side business to printing cards, brochures and fliers. Hardcover printing remains the most troublesome area because of the need for perfect binding. And publishers doing digital printing for hardcover books still have to find the right binders.

Baehr noted that the general printing difficulties extend to shipping and warehousing, saying that “the trucking industry is under tremendous pressure.” Shipping continues to grow in volume, and there are many seasonal spikes, such as needing to transport food at harvest time and dealing with bad weather. Like the printing business and most other blue-collar businesses, the trucking industry is also having difficulty finding qualified drivers.

Both Grimm and Baehr emphasized that publishers need to be in steady contact with everyone in the book manufacturing chain and plan ahead as best they can. “Reach out to your manufacturing partners,” Baehr said. “They want to be partners.” Publishers should plan farther ahead than usual, and Grimm emphasized that this is especially true for big projects, and also lessens the stress of inevitable surprise projects.

Baehr noted that publishers who last year had “better luck printing generally were those who supplied their own paper.” He advised publishers to “consider taking their destiny into their own hands” by finding paper sources.

Both printing problems and possible solutions are international, Grimm and Baehr said. Grimm said one way to improve the general situation is “to fill holes in the system with product from offshore.”

The first paragraph does sound a little defensive: those naughty bookstores — buying too many books at Christmas; do they think we’ve got unlimited stocks? But of course it’s not that we want to hold onto our books: it’s that we can’t get them in fast enough. Back when I started in this business there was a wide-spread feeling that having lots of stock on hand did represent an assurance that you’d have something to sell in the coming months and years. Of course that was back when we worked under the technological determinant of letterpress printing, where logic pushed you towards printing once and for all time. Reprinting existed of course, but was a burden, organizational and financial, (when I started out we didn’t employ anyone whose job it was to order reprints, because there were vanishingly few of them). It wasn’t until offset lithography took hold that reprinting became cheap enough to be fully incorporated into publishers’ strategic vision.

Some of our recent capacity problems have something to do with a technological switchover analogous to the letterpress/offset switch which took place in Britain in the nineteen sixties, and over here somewhat earlier. We are in the midst of a move from offset to digital printing, and maybe there’s been an overeagerness to junk offset presses before the digital capacity was in place to take up the slack. This sort of problem is self-healing: it’s just a timing of investment issue. In the same way that the switch from letterpress to offset enabled publishers to reduce the quantities they’d print, so too does digital make it possible to print in smaller quantities than offset permits. That publishers find it desirable to print smaller runs does not have to mean that there’s less demand for books out there — it means publishers are better able to match supply to demand by printing the “right” quantity. And this reduces the cost of unsold or slow-selling inventory and cuts down on wastage. It does however depend on a book manufacturing industry with the capacity to cope. At the moment we seem to be slightly out of balance.

The reason paper comes in the sizes it does is not just tradition or whim. It has to do with √2 and aspect ratios. If you are making a book, when you fold a piece of paper in half you want its aspect ratio, the relationship of height to width, to be the same as it was on the larger sheet, otherwise you end up cutting a lot of paper to waste. √2 is notoriously an irrational number but this doesn’t prevent its being essential to the construction of the apparently super-rational* paper size system, A1, A2, A3 etc, each of which represents a halving of the one before. John Barrow’s Gresham College lecture, The Uses of Irrationality, gives you the mathematics. You can watch it at this link, or download a transcript.

Wikipedia has a pretty exhaustive discussion of the matter.

See also Size, and Cut sizes.


* The picture shows the ISO A series system with the truly irrational US system shown on red.

Richard Charkin, via Publishing Perspectives last September, provided A Very Short History of the New Oxford English Dictionary, in which he describes the revolutionary digitization of the Dictionary in the eighties, a process in which he was intimately involved. It turned out to be a process which transformed the economics of the ancient cost center.

Whether or not a new edition of the OED will ever in fact be printed, we have to admit that the digital version, constantly updated, has become the most important bit of the project. Print sales of the current edition of course continue, but the project as a whole has changed over the last forty years from just-print to print-with-digital, to digital-with-print now. It’s possible it’s en route for a fully digital life style, but down the road a bit I’d bet that hard copies will be available via print-on-demand. However the ease (and constant updating) of the online version makes getting up to consult a large and heavy volume seem unduly cumbersome. Given that we now tend to write everything on our computers, having access in the same space to the greatest dictionary in the world is just overwhelmingly convenient.

As Charkin puts it “There will probably never be a third printed edition, but the online edition is in great health, builds every year, extends our understanding of English, our linguistic and cultural history, and stands as one of the great digital projects of all time.” I’d go further and ask: will there ever be something called a 3rd edition? An online project can evolve continuously, adding new material, correcting errors, updating the old on a daily basis. Thinking of 1st, 2nd, 3rd editions is now quaintly old fashioned: publishers issue a new edition of a book when changes have become sufficient for them to be able to justify printing a fresh, revised book with a realistic belief that their installed base of readers will feel the need to plunk their money down for the new edition. Obviously you can’t have a new edition every week, but in terms of content, with an online constantly updated project you can effectively have one every day on which any change is made to the database. It will be interesting to see if traditionalist opinion demands that there will ever be a moment at which OUP declares: “OK, today’s online recension is actually now going to be called ‘Third Edition'”. Sounds so silly that I bet it never happens.

Clearly the earlier you hook ’em the less likely they are to be able to get the hook out of their mouths. Make students dependent on the OED, and they’ll guarantee your subscription income in years to come. The Bookseller (link via Book Business) tells us that OUP have announced that they’ll be giving free access to UK primary and secondary schools.

See also my earlier post OED which I wrote while still employed by OUP, and at a time (2012) when the 20-volume set was being reprinted. The post contains a description of the manufacturing process for the two-volume, Compact Edition reproducing in miniature the entire 20-volume set.

The New York Times reports on an exhibition of tiny books at the Grolier Club in an article by Sarah Lyall which contains lots of illustrations. I’m afraid that tiny books excite a level of interest in this viewer proportionate to their size. I glanced at some of these books on a recent visit to the Grolier Club, and as usual found it hard to make much of them. So they’re small. Yes . . . Making these little volumes is cunning, detailed work, and at that level quite clever. Insisting on there being printed text inside the tiniest of these miniatures is surely slightly manic. The type is so small you need a magnifying glass.* Books surely are for reading, not for furnishing a doll’s house, or even a doll’s library.

One piece which does catch my eye is a sewing kit made out of a walnut shell, and containing a copy of Valeurs et constance, and almanac from 1823. I guess if you can see to thread a needle, you can probably see to read the almanac. Carting your reading around in a walnut shell certainly makes for light traveling — and easy loss, which is one of my sources of concern on looking at these things. The Times article has a picture of the entire kit. Also included is a picture of a Galileo letter reasoning that the Bible should not be used as the basis for science. Notable is the presence in the picture of a flat sheet as well as a bound book.

The Grolier exhibition closes on 19 May.


* This of course is also true of the compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, but in this case the miniaturization is done to fit 20 large volumes between one set of covers (well, two sets actually), and enables humans, not dollies to consult the dictionary.

“Roger Payne (1738–97) was a book-binder of legendary skill and invention, who can be credited with the introduction of a distinctly neo-classical style of finishing, and a wholly original style of endpapering. He elevated the book-binder’s invoice to the status of a work of art. [One may been seen at Jeff Peachey’s blog, linked to below.] He also enjoys, with Samuel Mearne, the uncomfortable distinction of having more books wrongly attributed to him than any other binder of his time. Any collector, pondering the purchase of a book reported as ‘bound by Payne’, should look to see if there is some more tangible evidence, an invoice, identifiable tools or the characteristic endpapers, or whether the attribution has rather been handed down from some hopeful catalogue description of the 19th century.” (John Carter: ABC for Book Collectors)

A Payne binding from the Folger Library

Wikipedia describes his work thus: “His most significant work was executed either in Russia leather or in straight-grained Morocco, usually of a dark blue, bright red, or olive colour. The end papers were usually purple or some other plain colour.” Payne’s main patrons were Earl Spencer, the Duke of Devonshire, Colonel Thomas Stanley, and Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode, who left to the British Museum 4,500 volumes, valued at £10,000 at the time of his death in 1799.

At his blog Jeff Peachey indulges in a speculative critique of this picture of Roger Payne, who rather looks like he’s about to faint from lack of nourishment.

Portrait of Roger Payne. Source: Recent Antiquarian Acquisitions, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Payne certainly doesn’t look like he’s eating too well — Mr Peachey speculates that that may be his lunch heating on the fire. Though the artist may portray him as the starving artist, Payne did in fact get paid for his work as is shown by a collection of his invoices preserved at the Morgan Library in New York. However when he died on 20 November 1797, he was buried in the churchyard of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields at the expense of his old friend Thomas Payne.

Mr Peachey points out that for a bookbinder he’s doing odd things to that book, though of course that may be the fault of the artist. Trying to bend the volume by leaning on it when its fore-edge is being held for some odd reason in a clamp is not a prudent move: especially in light of the fact that Payne was notable for his use of thin boards (which never warped).

He looks in much better shape in this statue on the outside of The Victoria and Albert Museum, though the same might not be said for the book he’s holding — maybe it’s the same volume as in the other picture.



Bookbinder Jeff Peachey brings us this image of an End Locking Loose Leaf Sectional Post Binder. It comes from an advert on a blotter. (You can see where the sunlight has yellowed the bit which wan’t buried under papers.) I used to have one of these desk blotters — before the days of Bic pens we had to blot everything we wrote because the only way to write anything was with an ink pen. My blotter was a superior leather version, put out by a bible bindery down in Cornwall. I once made the journey down to visit them, arriving all-a-tremble after some hair-raising driving by my Bible manufacturing colleagues.

A binding like this would live and have its being in an office situation. You’d need a hole puncher to prepare a new sheet for insertion: unscrew the bolt at the top of the post, open the book and insert your new page in the appropriate location. I can’t remember for sure whether or not the large account books I remember from the accounts department in Bentley House in the sixties were bound like this, but I bet the were despite what I wrote in my earlier recollections. There’d be a page for every book in one or more volumes, and every sale would be entered by a clerk perched on a high stool. Clearly the pages would need to have been placed in the book in alphabetical order, otherwise Mr Walmisley would never have been able to find his place when Bill Starling’s assistant arrived to tell him about that trade counter dale of Pericles.

An accessible book is one which should be capable of being read by people with vision, hearing, cognitive, or physical impairments. But making books accessible to people with disabilities that impair their ability to read sounds like a overwhelming problem for publishers. 

Bill Kasdorf, a long-time innovator, tells us in a recent Publishers Weekly article that making books accessible is neither as expensive nor as time consuming as we might assume. In fact he implies publishers already pretty much do it without realizing it. The coding we add to a book file in order to facilitate its output either as type or as a database item contains most of the tools needed for accessibility.

At bottom the difficulty in supplying books which are accessible to the disabled is the usual one with specialized markets. Publishers tend to be humane, even liberal, and would certainly like to “do the right thing”, but have to worry about making enough money to sustain their businesses. You can’t afford to print small runs of all your books directed at various small audiences. If you think of supplying books in physical form, the problem seems almost insurmountable, but digital publication appears to make the problem vanish. Want a large type version with blue type on a pale yellow background: you’ve (potentially) got it. Want it in 14pt Palatino? There you are. Want to have the text read out aloud? Again, theoretically, this can be available.

The potential market for accessible books is actually quite sizable. There are apparently 253 million people around the world with a vision impairment and 375 million with severe dyslexia. One eighth of the population of the USA can only read conventional print with difficulty. As the Book Industry Study Group’s Guide to Accessible Publishing (of which Mr Kasdorf’s article is basically a review) points out “There are more people with print disabilities globally than the total print sales for the Twilight and Harry Potter series combined”. Nor is the problem likely to go away soon: we all know how the population of the planet is aging, and the report asserts that about a quarter of people over 60 will have reading impairments.

Publishing digitally for people with print disabilities necessitates markup in the EPUB file to tag headings, footnotes, sidebars, or other text elements, as well as the imposition of a structure to enable proper navigation so that readers can move efficiently through the content. These features are basically what publishers already provide in order to make their files ready for output. Further requirements include enabling TTS (text-to-speech) so that assistive technology (AT) can be used. For blind users, a book’s images need to be described or they will remain invisible. Dyslexic readers will benefit from word-by-word highlighting synchronized with synthetic or narrated speech. For people with mobility impairments who may not be able to hold a book or turn a page, highly structured content enables efficient navigation through a text using special AT devices.

Preparing files to facilitate accessibility, going forward, is relatively simple, and presents the publisher with few additional costs — though additional costs there will be. “Born accessible”, like “born digital” requires relatively straightforward changes to work flows. However just as we experienced with the ebook revolution, dealing with legacy content — old books — is a serious cost sinkhole.

There may be a legal threat lurking over the horizon. The Americans with Disabilities Act, for instance, might be brought to bear on the provision of accessible texts. These are still early days in the digital preparation of text (twenty-five or thirty years is but the blinking of an eye) and as more and more new texts become “born accessible” the law may wake up to the fact that all of them might be.

Link to the PW article via Kathy Sandler’s Publishing · Technology · Innovation.

In the antiquarian and restoration world there are a variety of custom-made boxes to hold books or loose papers or a mixture of the two. One common type is the solander, a hinged-lid, clamshell box made of heavy board or even wood covered in a stout cloth, leather, or some other material. This one is embellished by a little pocket in the lid, to hold smaller bits of paper. The solander is named after Daniel Solander, a Swedish botanist who allegedly came up with the idea while working at the British Museum.

Daniel Carlsson Solander (1733-82) studied under Carl Linnaeus, whose classification system he promoted throughout his life. He went to England June 1760 and in February 1763, began cataloguing the natural history collections of the British Museum. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1764, and in 1768 sailed with James Cook’s Endeavour on its expedition to the Pacific. Wikipedia tells us that he holds the quaint distinction of being the first university-educated scientist to set foot on Australian ground.

It would be unusual for a book publisher to go to the extent of creating an archival box like this for one of their publications, but in the limited editions, deluxe end of the business one might find such a thing containing a book plus perhaps some loose engravings or facsimile documents.

See also Slipcase



Hardly exhaustive, but maybe of interest to some, Merriam-Webster sends us (via Shelf Awareness) a Glossary of Different Parts of a Book and their Meanings (and derivations).

There are entries in this blog about many such terms, and at one of the tabs at the top of the page you can find links to several glossaries of book and printing vocabulary.

Finch, Pruyn & Company was formed in 1865 when Jeremiah and Daniel Finch, together with Samuel Pruyn, purchased the Glens Falls Company. Shortly thereafter they bought the Wing Mill, on which site they are still located. In 2007 the company was renamed Finch Paper LLC.

Still there — the 1911 office building

They started out with various lines of business including lumber, and it was only in 1905 that they started making paper. In the early years they made newsprint and hanging paper, the basis for wallpapers. Only in the 1950s did book-paper-making get going. Finch Opaque, the sheet best known to the publishing community, was only introduced in 1963, around the time when the company installed an odor-free pulping process and moved from coal power to oil. The mill is quite close to the middle of town — three or four blocks — so you can imagine the highly scented life in the town back then.

As is usually the case the mill is built next to a constant source of water, the Hudson River. In the early days this water would provide power. The falls are just upstream from the Finch Mill. In this old postcard view the mill is just to the left at the northern end of the bridge across the river. A mill lade leads off from the upper river and flows into the mill site. Not, I’m sure, that it had any influence on the founders decision-making, but the literary-minded may be interested  to know that just under that bridge one can find the cave  in which Hawkeye and his companions hid in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. Part of the mill can be seen in the background of this photo of the cave.

Photo Kent Myers, Finch Paper

Doubtless in the olden days the lade would also serve as a delivery method for their raw material. Logs, as we all sort of know, used not to be hauled around on trucks: they were thrown into the river and dramatically floated downstream to civilization. The last river drive carrying logs from the Adirondack Mountains down the Hudson River took place in 1950. This video, from Finch, shows a drive from the thirties. A more exciting job than driving a truck for sure.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.