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  • Cam Gray

A Case for Digital Hardcover Binding

Moving into the digital age

Case binding has been the general process for producing hardcover books for decades, if not centuries. It has been very much like a craft, often like printing itself, but over the years has required increasing levels of automation to boost productivity. Although “boutique” book printers and binders still do a lot of these things by hand, it’s impractical to make hand-tooled leather book covers for a 10-million copy printing of a bestselling author’s latest hit. At what the publisher would have to charge, it probably wouldn’t end up being much of a bestseller.

Oddly enough, the same dynamics apply to today’s digital book printing. As we will discuss below, digital book printing has enabled shorter runs and on demand printing, and you would think that this environment would be ideal to bring back the hands-on craft aspect of bookbinding. And yet, the reason that short-run and on demand book printing is economical is precisely because the printing and binding operations are highly automated, productive and efficient.

The markets for digital hardcover books

The advent of digital printing in general, and digital book printing in particular, has opened up entirely new opportunities and markets for publishers, printers and end users. While mainstream publishers still are dependent upon the traditional model of mass printing, warehousing, distribution, shipping and returns, some have begun exploring the potential of digital printing. At the same time, it has opened up book publishing to small and even self-publishers who had been blocked from traditional publishing markets. E-commerce, meanwhile, solved one of the last remaining barriers to entry: distribution.

Not all of digital book printing necessarily requires case binding, just as all book publishing in general doesn’t require case binding. But, just as digital printing is enabling high-volume print applications, digital case binding can add even more value to that process.

Areas of growth

Again, not all book genres and niches benefit from a digital approach, and certain niches are better candidates for digital printing – and digital case binding – than others. Let’s run through a few of them.

Textbooks Textbooks always have been economically problematic, from both the publisher’s, as well as the buyer’s, perspective. The cost of production, a flourishing used textbook market and the need for regular revisions traditionally have made it necessary for publishers to charge very high prices for textbooks. Switching to digital printing won’t necessarily help with the overall economics of the textbook market; that said, however, shorter run lengths and a customisation approach can make them more easily and economically updated. Digital printing has helped create new types of textbooks, such as textbooks that are specific to individual classes, instructors or even students. For instance, textbooks can be customized with personalized URLs and passcodes that give each student access to his or her own course website. The digital approach also allows instructors to compile their own “anthologies” and customized content.

Yearbooks School yearbooks lend themselves quite well to digital book printing, as they tend to be short-run, specialty printed products. Adding a hardcover makes it even more of a keepsake.

Photo Books If there has been one digital printing application that has been a runaway bestseller in the past decade, it has been digital photo books. Users upload their own photos of an event – a wedding, a birthday party, a holiday, you name it – and print limited editions as gifts for friends and family. Using case binding rather than perfect binding only makes these books even more valuable and special.

Digital Coffee Table Books As the term indicates, these are oversized, decorative, color gift books often designed more as decoration than reading matter. Indeed, they are left out on the coffee table with the aim of impressing guests. Not usually produced in large runs, digital is starting to catch on for these kinds of titles, especially as printing and binding equipment increasingly can support the oversized nature of these kinds of titles.

Recipe Books Today, these types of recipe books can be produced in the same way as photo books. And, in this age of people Instagramming everything they eat, it even is easy to incorporate images for an even more high-value print application.


Hardcover books always have been viewed by consumers as more of a “premium” item, a high-value print application that also serves as a keepsake, which is what new digital printing applications – like photo books, yearbooks and so forth – are producing. For years, case binding was thought to be out of reach economically and even technologically. But, today’s digital case binding systems bring high-quality bookbinding within the reach of virtually any shop, opening up new opportunities to produce those high-value print applications.


Check out our Guide to Case Binding

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