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Re: Publishers' page of shame



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Several years ago, Joanne Sonnichsen wrote this essay on the subject (for
GBW?). I had her permission to reprint it then and it seems to be the time
to do it again:

Written to Last, Built to Self-destruct
by Joanne Sonnichsen

        Is it possible that American hard-cover books, published to our new
standards for permanence of paper, will nevertheless disappear within only
a few decades?

        Thanks to the superb efforts people like Ellen McCready, we can take pride
in the paper used for American publications. Her Abbey Newsletter (and
later Alkaline Paper Advocate) fought for years to educate the book world
about the necessity of using acid-free papers. Finally, the battle has been
won. Now the pages can keep their color and suppleness for years.
Unfortunatelly, the books won't last.

        These wonderful pages are no longer bound into books in such a way as to
ensure their permanence. The spines of most publishers' hard-cover editions
are now constructed along the same principle as "Post-it notes." If you
care to test this, simply take a recent $30 book and flex its spine a few
times. You may even have to read it once or twice to get it ready for the
test. Then, as you begin to turn each page, tug on it. You will probably be
able to pull it out fairly easily.  If you are careful, you might even be
able to avoid tearing the leaves. When you are finished, so is the book.
You will have a lovely pile of white pages that will retain their color and
suppleness for years to come. You could even conceivably put these loose
sheets back into their case binding. The book would be clumsy to store that
way, however, and pages would probably escape from time to time each time
the book was used.

        It isn't even always necesary to flex the spine to destroy the book. Often
just loving use is sufficient. My introduction to the glued-only spine came
when a desolate owner brought me a book for repair that her late father had
given to her, and she was shattered when a section of it fell out. It was a
copy of the beautiful red-leather-bound National Geographic book on China.
Although it was possible to replace that section, it will only be a matter
of time before another section works its way loose. This was an expensive
book, meant to be an heirloom. However much money the publishers saved by
gluing the spine instead of sewing it, that will not compensate for the
distress of the many people who bought the book and are now finding
sections of it falling out.

        There IS a better way to keep those pages over the decades: keep the folds
of the signatures intact and sew the text block at the spine. Sewing the
signatures of a book is part of correct book construction. When the book is
printed, several pages are printed on one sheet. That sheet is then folded
to produce the familiar signature of 8, 16, 32, etc. pages. When the top is
trimmed, the book is ready to be sewn. Sewing may be done by hand or by
machine. With either method, the pages are securely fastened into a text
block. Over time the pages may loosen; if so, they can be re-sewn.

        A book constructed of sewn signatures is a book meant to be used over the
years. When we pay $30 for that hard-cover copy, instead of $10 for the
paperback edition, it is because we want to be able to keep the information
for re-reading, for reference, for sharing, and for posterity.

        If, after the top is trimmed, the fold of the signature is cut off and
glued, the integrity of the structure is compromised. The opening of the
book is stiff. Damage to the text block is assured (unless the book is
never opened).

        Repair of the damage will either be temporary - awaiting the next problem
- or prohibitively expensive for most books (by guarding each page so that
signatures can be made up and sewn).

        When readers buy a paperback book with a "perfect" binding, they are
giving up the long-term use of the book for a reduction in its price. When
they buy a hard-cover book, they pay a premium for a book that they are
planning to keep. If that book is "perfect" bound, they are not getting
what they have a right to expect. Unfortunately, few book buyers are even
aware of the problem. Even those who are may be lulled into a false sense
of security by seeing the familiar U-shaped gatherings at the spine that
seem to denote sewn signatures - but that does not always indicate a sewn
book. The only way to be certain the book has been sewn is to "see" the
sewing threads at the fold of each signature.

                As bookbinders, we have a responsibility to bring this information to the
public. As book buyers, we have a right to demand proper construction in
the hard-cover books we buy.
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I do know that some publishers and Binderies have been studying the
problem. LBS reported, in an issue of "Cover to Cover," findings of a study
of adhesives that seemed to point to migration of chemicals in the printing
inks as a cause of failure of certain adhesives used in binding.  I cna't
find the actual issue at the moment, but maybe someone knows more about
this than I do and can bring us up to date.

Betty






Betty Storz
PO Box 542
Mendocino, CA  95460
e-mail storz@mcn.org

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