There are about 67,000 bookbinders and bindery workers in the United States. Job growth statistics indicated that over the next decade, these jobs will decline rapidly, at a rate of 19%. This decline can be attributed to increasingly efficient bindery machines and the continuous expansion of the Internet as a source of information. However, the need for rapid turnaround for many bindery projects, retiring employees, and fewer workers entering the industry mean that highly trained job applicants who are familiar with the latest computer software used in the trade will be able to secure jobs.
Traditionally, bookbinders and bindery workers learn their craft on the job. Binders put printed and folded sheets in order and attach them together and then to a book or magazine cover. Attachment can be made in the form of stitching, stapling, gluing, or other methods. It is the responsibility of bindery workers to prepare machinery for operation and to maintain and run the machines. Bookbinders complete jobs by hand. Some jobs are single-step operations, such as brochures or newspaper sections, which must be printed and folded. Texts that must be fully bound require several steps. Very large sheets are printed in a certain order and then folded into “signatures,” or page groupings organized sequentially. Next, signatures are sequenced and either saddle-stitched or perfect-bound, which requires no stitching.
- Bookbinders might also make repairs to rare or expensive books by sewing, stitching, or re-gluing the pages. Bodies of the books are shaped using presses and reinforced with glued strips. Book covers are manufactured in a separate process and then stitched or glued onto the body. Finishing work might include mechanically wrapping books in jackets.
- A very limited number of craftspeople keep the tradition alive by working in hand binderies. Original, unique bindings are created for limited editions, often of literary or scholarly works. Hand binderies also repair damaged books.
- Large binderies offer specialized binding tasks, while smaller ones typically have employees capable of handling most aspects of the trade. Operating laminating machines, creating perfect bindings, folding large printed sheets into signatures, stitching or gluing signatures in order, cutting or trimming pages, and attaching covers are just some of the tasks performed.
- Book binderies can be noisy because of the machine operations. Employees need stamina, as lifting and carrying heavy boxes is part of the job. Binders are often on their feet for extended periods of time. Some of the work involves repetitive tasks, which can result in such injuries as carpel tunnel syndrome. Minor injury is common and includes eyestrain and headache, bruises, repetitive motion injury, and muscular or skeletal pain.
- Bindery work is typically completed in a 40-hour work week with standard hours. However, if large jobs come in or if the bindery is behind schedule, there may be a need for overtime or weekend work. Very large binderies work around the clock, operating three shifts.
Entry-level positions require a high school diploma or associate degree with studies in graphic communications, graphic arts, computer software, and bindery work. Some technical or vocational schools offer postsecondary courses. Book binding unions offer training programs to union members. While many four year colleges offer printing and publishing programs, the focus in on creating graphic artists and graphics arts administrators. New hires with little or no experience often begin as trainees who perform simple jobs and move to progressively more complex ones. A year is usually sufficient time to learn all aspects of the machinery and computer software. It is important for binders to participate in ongoing training, as the technology for software and machinery is constantly changing. A few binderies may offer formal apprenticeships in which new hires work with experienced mentors.
In addition to formal training, bindery workers must possess careful attention to detail and consistent patience. Excellent eyesight is essential; work done even slightly off measure could create a catastrophe later down the line. Mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity are also important. Employees with an up-to-the minute understanding of the latest software will be in great demand. Workers who exhibit creativity, artistry, and good taste make excellent hand binders.
Binders advance as their skills improve, and they receive higher pay as their responsibilities increase. Some become certified, and many go to continuing training opportunities. Large binderies afford talented workers the opportunity to advance to a supervisory or managerial position.
The median hourly pay of bookbinders is less that $17 per hour. This compares to a median hourly pay of just over $14 per hour for all production jobs. Employees in the middle 50% were paid roughly $11 to $20 per hour. At the bottom of the pay scale, workers earn less than $9 per hour. Those at the top, who have the greatest training and experience, earn closer to $30 per hour. The median hourly pay for of bindery workers is less than $14 per hour, with the middle 50% receiving between $11 and $18 dollars per hour. Those at the bottom of the pay scale earn less than $9 per hour, while the highest paid bindery workers received over $22 per hour.