Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
In my self publishing adventures over the years, I've tried just about every type of book binding option available. All I can say is, "Thank goodness for today's Print On Demand technologies!"
A book's binding can determine its future sales. Some bindings are completely unacceptable in retail markets. Others may be appropriate for specialty or niche markets, depending on the book's topic and intended use.
Here is a review of the primary book binding types, with a discussion of the pros and cons of each for self publishers, and videos illustrating their commercial production.
Case Bound or Hardcover Book Binding
Case binding, also known as hardcover, is the top of the line in the book binding arena. While in times past, it may have been the primary method for printing and packaging books, today it is optional... and an expensive choice. As such, it is often reserved for titles which can command higher prices and have high or long-lasting value.
Case binding is a multi-step process that involves printing the pages, manufacturing the cover and then assembling the pages and cover together. The interior pages of the book are printed and organized into small groups of pages, called signatures. The signatures are then placed in order into a book block which is glued to the spine and then assembled onto the cover. Signatures are used to give the spine of the book some flexibility so that it could lay flat when opened.
Typically, a dust jacket—a paper wrapping that covers the front, back and spine and whose ends fold into the front and back covers—is used, not only to protect the book, but to promote it, too. The jacket usually has an eyecatching front cover (great opportunity for branding!), a description or highlights for the book, and the author's biography and photo.
- A case bound hardcover book is an impressive presentation for a book! Because of its high cost, it can suggest high value and could command higher prices.
- Expense is the biggest drawback for self publishers when it comes to publishing a hardcover edition for their books. The net cost can be several times the cost of its perfect bound cousin (discussed below). High minimum order quantity is usually required to justify the pre-production and manufacturing costs for both the publisher and printer.
- Case bound books can be heavier than binding methods, thus requiring additional shipping costs.
Case Binding Example (DIY Version)
Perfect Bound Book Binding
While in some respects it is similar to hardcovers in terms of manufacture, perfect bound book binding is significantly less expensive. Perfect bound covers are usually made of heavier weight cardstock paper and are often laminated or coated to protect the book. Because the cover is made of paper and is flexible, it is also often referred to as softcover.
Like hardcover books, perfect bound interior pages are printed, organized into a book block and glued to the spine of the book. However, perfect bound spines are not separate pieces from the cover as with case bound.
- Economical alternative to hardcover that still is an impressive presentation.
- Provides savings in shipping costs due to lighter weight covers than case bound hardcovers.
- Economical choice for titles that may have a shorter lifespan due to the subject matter, but still require a professional presentation package (e.g., technology).
- While perfect binding reduces expense, it also reduces the inner (gutter) margins of the book to allow for gluing pages to the spine, thereby reducing the amount of text that can appear on each page and requiring care in printing layout.
- Though a very durable binding method, it has a shorter lifespan due to wear on a paper-based cover and minimal protection of interior pages.
- Does not lay flat when opened due to gluing of cover to spine of book block.
Perfect Binding Example
Print On Demand (POD) Perfect Bound Book Binding
The introduction of Print On Demand (POD) equipment and technology has offered self publishers the opportunity to purchase short runs of perfect bound books at a reasonable cost. What is produced is a perfect bound book almost indistinguishable from one printed in a much longer commercially printed run. Sometimes the minimum quantity order is as low as one book!
POD technologies have helped independent ("indie") and self publishing compete with books from traditional publishing houses.
- Self publishers can now produce a retail-quality book in low quantities and lower cost. .
- Same advantages as noted earlier for traditionally printed perfect bound books.
- As for standard perfect bound book production, properly laying out the interior and cover for production can be challenging. However, many self publishing platforms (e.g., KDP by Amazon) offer helpful tools and templates to address these concerns.
- Same disadvantages as noted earlier for traditionally printed perfect bound books.
See How Amazon Prints Books on Demand
Print on Demand Machine Example
Saddle Stitch Binding
For books that are shorter in terms of number of pages, or that might have limited or short term use, saddle stitch binding provides an economical alternative. The "stitching" is commonly done with metal staples in commercial printing operations.
Once the pages are printed, they are organized, stacked and loaded onto a conveyor to enter the stitching and trimming process. The way they are loaded onto the conveyor makes the books look like saddles, thus the name for the binding process.
Saddle stitching binding can be done with or without a cover. It is commonly used for brochures and other marketing materials. (Click here to learn more about brochure printing for business.) In the retail arena, it is frequently used for calendars, magazines, children's titles (such as coloring books) and educational workbooks.
- Economical production is the greatest benefit that saddle stitching offers.
- Has the ability to lay flat when opened.
- Laying out artwork can be a bit tricky. Margins for the center pages of the book will not necessarily be the same as for the outer pages. While the thickness of a sheet of paper can seem insignificant, when grouped together and folded, the nesting of the pages within one another can shift margins in an obvious way. Thus saddle stitching is not recommended for books of hundreds of pages.
- Because it is a less durable binding method, the book's pages and covers can be easily damaged, reducing the lifespan of the work.
- Usually not popular for retail book sales except for specialty titles such as calendars, magazines and workbooks.
Comb, Spiral and Thermal Bound Books
Long before Print On Demand technologies made the scene, self publishers had few options for short run books. Therefore, many turned to comb, spiral and thermal bound books, using either a small desktop unit or having them done at a local print & copy shop. Unfortunately, because the appearance of the finished product was so different from that of books sold in retail, it often screamed "self publishing" and could have a difficult time making its way into standard book distribution channels and retail outlets. However, both comb and spiral books are still used for books such as educational workbooks and cookbooks due to their lower expense and ability to lay flat. Thermal binding is also still used for such published works as reports and proposals.
Comb Binding. As the name suggests, the binding looks like a comb and is threaded through holes punched into an edge of the book, usually the left edge, although occasionally the top is used for specialty publishing such as calendars.
Spiral Binding. Similar to comb binding except that instead of a comb, a metal or plastic coil is threaded through the holes in the edge of a book.
Thermal Binding. This binding method punches no holes in the paper. Like perfect binding, the pages of the book are glued to a spine through the application of heat to the pre-glued cover's spine.
- For extremely short run books, these one-off type binding methods may be the only option available if not using Print On Demand technologies.
- Lower expense due to low or no minimum order quantity.
- Usually not an acceptable or durable binding option for standard distribution and retail channels. So the book may need to be sold direct to customers which may be costly and ineffective.
- Purchasing desktop binding equipment and supplies can be expensive.
- Screams "self published!"
Saddle Stitching Example
Comb Binding Example
Spiral Binding Example
Thermal Binding Example
No paper. No expensive production. No problem? Ebooks have eliminated all the physical book binding production and expense, especially for self publishers. As more people turn to their electronic devices to consume content, ebooks seem like a natural evolution for books.
However, ebooks are not without book "binding" challenges. Formatting is critical for them to be readable and usable on an electronic or mobile device.
- Expense is negligible, sometimes even zero, except for the author's and publisher's time and effort.
- Meets growing demand for content on electronic and mobile devices.
- Except for the writing, ebooks can be produced and published quickly, sometimes even within hours.
- Due to their low cost to produce and since almost anyone with a computer or Internet connection can produce one, ebooks may not have the same value in buyers' minds.
- Formatting that needs to be translated for electronic and mobile devices can be challenging. However, self publishing platforms, such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), often provide tips, document conversion and automated format review of uploaded manuscripts.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2015 Heidi Thorne
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 15, 2019:
Denise, I did the whole comb-bound book thing in the early days of the self publishing era, too. We really didn't have a choice! Back then to create a few copies of your book, either perfect bound or hardcover, would cost hundreds of dollars. I like to think we were pioneers. :)
Print on demand is truly a miracle.
Thanks so much for chiming in and sharing! Have a beautiful day!
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 14, 2019:
This is great information and very helpful. It explains why I can't seem to sell my old comb binding machine. No one wants it when print on demand is so readily available.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 06, 2015:
Hello Everyone, thanks to Peg, I realized there had been a change to one of the featured YouTube videos on case binding. I've included a new link to a DIY (do it yourself) case binding example (although that's quite a process!). But at least you'll get an idea of what it's all about. Thanks for reading!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 06, 2015:
Hi Peg! I agree that the Espresso machine is truly amazing and allowing more of us to get our books into print. Let us know when you do get that book published. Appreciate your support and comments! Have a wonderful day! P.S. I'll check out the video link. Thanks for the heads up!
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on May 05, 2015:
Fascinating study on the different types of binding for books. I loved the video on the Espresso Book Machine. That technology is amazing and quite reasonably priced. Thanks for sharing your expertise in these options. One day, I'll get my book published. Still in the editing phase.
Voted up and interesting.
PS The first video wasn't working.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 01, 2015:
Hi kschimmel! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!
Kimberly Schimmel from North Carolina, USA on March 01, 2015:
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 11, 2015:
Yep, FlourishAnyway, lots of pros and cons to consider. And we know you've got a book inside you just waiting to publish. :) Cheers!
FlourishAnyway from USA on February 10, 2015:
This was very helpful. I especially liked your presentation of pros and cons. Now I just need to come up with the book, haha.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 02, 2015:
Hi there, billybuc! Yep, a lot goes on behind the scenes in getting a book into the hands (and minds) of readers. BTW, also bummed re Super Bowl. Throwing a pass when you're on the 1/2 yard line? What? Why? But it was a great and close game which made it watchable. As we say here in Chicago, wait 'til next year (and we've got a new Bears head coach this year). Plus, we've got 19" or so of snow this AM. Have a great week ahead, my friend!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 01, 2015:
This is the kind of nuts and bolts stuff that most writers aren't aware of. Great information. I'm still licking my Super Bowl wounds so I'm going to go cry now. :)
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 01, 2015:
Hi B. Leekley! Indeed, hand bookbinding is THE creme de la creme of the bookbinding trade. When I was researching videos for this hub, a lot of videos for doing handmade books came up. That's more than production; that's art! Thanks so, so much for the support. Have a great week ahead!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 01, 2015:
Hi Jodah! Yep, the glue in spines of those old books could deteriorate and crack. I remember seeing repaired library books back in the day. That's when books were more precious and lovingly caring for and repairing them was what we did. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience with us! Have a great day!
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on February 01, 2015:
Up, Useful, and Interesting. This is an excellent, helpful overview of binding options.
The poshest option is hand bookbinding in leather, silk, marbled paper over boards, buckram, etc. This is very expensive when done by a professional. It is also a popular craft hobby.
John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on February 01, 2015:
This is a very comprehensive hub about book binding Heidi. handy videos too. I used to work in a library and we often had to repair the spines and covers of books. It was often very challenging. I enjoyed this hub.