SIC 2789

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.

NAICS Code(s)

323121 (Tradebinding and Related Work)

Industry Snapshot

While some feared that the Internet Age would signal a decline in bookbinders' business, no such losses had been realized by the early 2000s. The total value of bookbinding shipments jumped to more than $2.1 billion in 2000, up from $1.38 billion in 1994.

In the late 1990s roughly 1,250 bookbinderies were in operation in the United States, employing more than 31,900 individuals. Only 400 establishments had more than 20 employees, while an equal number had fewer than five. More than two-thirds of the industry's labor force worked in the 150 largest binderies. The majority of small to medium binderies were subsidiaries of the commercial printing industry.

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, glueing, die-cutting, stamping, and other operations. These peripheral activities generated about $550.1 million in revenues for bookbinders in 1997.

There were three major associations concerned with bookbinding: Book Manufacturers Institute, Bookbinders' Guild, and the Society of Bookbinders.

Background and Development

Until the 1980s, few developments were made in the binding process, although more establishments emerged in response to the demand for more magazines and books. In 1988 Otava Publishing in Finland introduced America 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 developed in 1980 and has since been used increasingly throughout Europe. Otabind has proven highly valuable to trade printers who produce computer manuals, previously made with costly spinal binders. The predecessors to Otabind were the centuriesold 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—meaning reinforced paperback cover—which 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 in 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—a result of hand gathering and feeding.

Current Conditions

Hardbound edition printing, which includes textbooks for all levels of schooling as well as hardcover technical, business, consumer, trade, and professional books, accounted for $83.6 million in shipments in the late 1990s. Library binding, involving the hardcover binding of libraries' periodicals collections, generated sales of $181.6 million. Binding of pamphlets and similar softcover products totaled $157.3 million. Total shipments for book and pamphlet binding and related work were valued at $2.1 billion in 2000.

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 were also expanding their capacity during this period, as well as integrating more technologically sophisticated operations into their facilities. Market leader Bindagraphics, for instance, upgraded its plant to incorporate a more diverse product line in-house, thus enabling the firm to handle complex orders efficiently and quickly at one facility.

Changes were occurring 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.

Throughout the 1990s, new 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)—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 most likely would translate into significantly increased operating costs for bookbinders. In place of a rewrite, chemical manufacturers were testing 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).

Industry Leaders

Leading firms in the bookbinding industry at the end of the 1990s included Bindagraphics of Baltimore, Maryland, with more than 200 employees and 1998 revenues of $15 million; Reindl Bindery Company of Glendale, Wisconsin; Universal Printing Co., Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri; Houchen Bindery Ltd. of Utica, Nebraska; and CPI Graphics, Inc. of Lansing, Michigan.


More than 31,950 workers were employed in the bookbinding industry in 2000 with a total payroll of $826 million. About 26,600 of these were production workers, earning an average of $11.27 per hour. The majority of jobs were in commercial printing plants. The demand for bindery workers was expected to grow more slowly than for most other occupations through the year 2005. Demand for printed material is expected to increase, but heightened productivity will be accomplished increasingly on more efficient processes and automation.

Further Reading

Adams, Cheryl. "Build It And They Will Come." Printing Impressions, March 1999.

"Bound For Change." Graphic Arts Monthly, May 1990.

Fairley, Peter. "HPV Rule: Legal Hammer or Litigation Bait." Chemical Week, March 1999.

Larkin, Jim. "Simplify, Don't Digitize." Printing Impressions, January 2000.

Marks, P.J.M. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

U.S. Census Bureau. Census of Manufacturers 1997, Washington, D.C.: GPO, 3 November 1999.

——. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

U.S. Department of Commerce. International Trade Association. U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook 1999, New York: The McGraw Hill Companies, 1999.

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