How books are made


I work in the Twin Cities- my part of the job is involved in a Datacenter- which means lots of cables and blinkenlights, and loud fans and whatnot. It’s pretty cool, but the novelty wears off.

The other side of our campus churns out books- large books. Touring that part of the facility is still fantastic to me. The fork lifts, the cavernous warehouses with speedracks and books going 30 feet high- but watching the rolls of paper being fed into a press and coming out as signatures on the other side is mesmerising.

We’ve got a couple of presses called “Zero Make Ready”- if I understand it right, the magic is in the way it treats the plates. When you move from one signature from the other, it used to be a lot of work to stop the presses, take the old plates out, put the new plates in, make sure the webbing (paper feed) is still intact, and move on.

This machine will essentially load in a secondary set of plates, and start printing with them simultaneously, and then pull the first set of plates off. The system keeps track of the overprinted signatures, and automatically discards them.

It also automatically feeds the new roll of paper into the webbing- the operators just have to keep the loading area staged, and the press will keep everything running end to end.

It’s phenomenal.


Those giant rolls of paper bounce like silly putty. I saw one take out a cinder block wall and roll to a stop against a loading dock outside.

1 Like

A few years ago I was lucky enough to tour Ingram’s Lightning Source division, which produces books for small and independent publishers. They called it “print on demand”, although I think that’s misleading because they were really producing copies of books ranging from a few dozen to runs of several thousand, depending on the demand.

You’d be surprised to know how many books you find on a bookstore shelf were produced by Lightning Source, and everyone there I spoke to was very proud of that fact. They were emphatic that most people associate “print on demand” with cheap, low quality, books all of the same shape and size, but they could turn out paperbacks of varying sizes on high quality paper with very nice covers. Hardbacks were only one size, and covers had to be applied by hand, but they said they were working on that.

It really was an amazing operation in a space the size of a large garage. There were fewer than twenty people working there, but in spite of the repetitive noise and repetitive work they all seemed extremely happy.

And being able to watch a book go from printer to binder and come out complete at the other end was just amazing. It’s cool watching a video of it, but there really is something special about being there and being able to pick up a newly printed book.

If you are interested in how books are produced, why not head towards
Which is a kickstarter by a publisher called Fantastic Books and they are trying to raise funds to produce audio books which will be released on the same day as the print version which as far as we know doesn’t happen with any other publisher. Go and support them as the four books that they have in the pledge rewards look like great scifi adventures.
There are trailers and a short reading to whet your appetite.

The National Braille Press has once or twice been able to work with publishers to release the braille edition on the same day as the print edition. The first big success on that front was one of the Harry Potter books, and it absolutely delighted the kids because for the first time they were reading books at the same time their friends were and could participate in the discussion.

(If you’re looking for another charity to put on your end-of-year donation list, NBP’s worth considering.)

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.