Why can't they make a book that holds up any more?!

I’m not talking about the timelessness or datedness of the contents, I’m talking about the durability of the book as a physical object.

I recently got this big, thick, hardcover book out of the public library. I wanted to read it because I had already read this book and apparently they’re part of a projected three-part series (“trilogy” really only applies in fiction). Anyway, before long it split open along the spine. Making sure no pages were lost, I took it back to the library and told them this book is “hurt.” The librarian told me it would probably be destroyed; they don’t repair books any more. Well, there was another copy in the system so I ordered it, got it, started to read it – and now it’s falling apart in my hands. It’s not an old book, only printed in 2001. That’s the problem, apparently. Almost any harcover from the '70s, probably from the '80s, would be sewn-sheet. Now they’re bound with glue! Why?! It’s not like, with modern technology, every book would have to be sewn by hand.
Sub-Pitting: So, I took the second copy back to the library, and explained the situation, and asked if I could please, please get it repaired so I could finish it. No, they don’t do that any more. Following the recent property-tax revolt in Florida, the Tampa-Hillsborough library system’s budget has been slashed and they had to reduce their staff by 50%. We really need a state income tax.

First, most of the books that get printed never get bought by a consumer. They get returned and get destroyed. A few get sold as remainders. Then, how many of the books that get bought actually get read cover-to-cover once or more than once? Why spend a bunch of money on a product that is basically disposable? Not saying it’s right but that’s the economics of the business. Yes, a quality book can be made, just like resoleable shoes can be made. If the mass market stuff is just getting thrown away anyway, why bother.

I don’t get your problem. The spine is broken? Pages coming loose? They’re still perfectly readable, just be sure to hold onto them all so you can return the ‘complete’ book.

American single-dimensional capitalism in action. All that matters is the maximum amount of profit; no one cares about quality. And durability is actually a liability; a book that holds together is much less likely to need a replacement, which will need to be bought, thus enriching the publishers.

They do make books that hold up. As I type this, The Da Vinci Code is holding up one corner of my desk. Which is a much better use than actually reading the damn thing. :smiley:

But I know what you mean - I used to have some books printed around the turn of the (20th) century, and they had held up exceptionally well, despite having been obviously handled frequently. Some very minor cracking around the spine, but that’s about it.

But I had a Peter Straub hardcover (I think it was Mr. X) that began shedding pages after only a couple readings, in less than 2 years.

Er, you got a cite for any of that? I’m having trouble believing that “most of the books that get printed never get bought by a consumer” and “they get returned and destroyed.” Them’re some big statements there.


There’s actually a reason for why the book would be “destroyed” in that situation. It’s basically because repairing books with book glue is labor intensive and the materials are pricey for what can often be a crapshoot. A repaired book can last one more readthrough before falling apart again or it can hold together for years.

It’s often just easier (and more cost effective) to rebuy the book.


The book as a physical object? That sort of thing may be heading out of the door as well.

I have been doing a lot of reading lately on my Kindle - and it is really a pretty good way to read. All a book is is words on a page - and if those words can be displayed in a way that won’t tire your eyes out, you’re set.

My mother in law saw this, and she was thoroughly impressed. She has to read extensively for her job in mortgage banking, and is a pleasure reader to boot - and she liked the contrast and low glare of the device.

The ebooks I have I can reread over and over. If I lose them I have them archived on another site for redownload. I can search and index them.

This isn’t to say that this totally replaces physical books - but for me it does change how I do most of my reading and will determine how much I will invest in a book as an object when, frankly, I am only interested in the content it contains.

As price decreases, distribution increases.

That’s why there was the shift in the early 19th century from high quality rag paper to wood pulp paper (which broke down and fell apart prior to the production of acid free paper in the later 20th century).

That’s why more recently glued soft covers are replacing bound hard covers.

That’s why I expect ebooks to gain ground.

People want the content of books, and are willing to sacrifice book longevity to free up money for more content.

It’s not just the economics of the materials used, it’s also that a lot of people are brutal to books. Apparently, I’m rather gentle with them, as even cheapo paperbacks live through multiple readings. Maybe it’s just that I was taught to respect books as physical objects.

I received a brutal awakening when I once loaned a book out and it was returned mangled - the spine so broken the writing on it was obliterated, pages torn, stained, stuck together, falling out…

So public library books not only get gentle readers such as myself but also ravening destroyers as well, which does not help their durability.

My public library does repair at least some of their books - yes, the results are spotty, but apparently they think the attempt succeeds often enough for it to be worth it.

Now - as for those who CUT pieces out of books - pictures, entire pages, ink over “objectionable” language - there’s a special place in hell for them with the child molesters and people who talk in theaters during the movie…

OK, I exaggerated a bit by saying “most”. 40% of the books that are printed never sell.

Here’s a cite: http://www.parapublishing.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cfm

You have to scroll down quite a way to “Returns”.

“Library bound” books do exist and are orders of magnitude more durable, they are also more expensive. I worked in childrens book distribution for 7 years (Scholastic Inc), in most cases those books are out of the supply chains of the publishers within a couple years never to be seen or heard from again (See Thor tool vs. IRS). Individual distribution centers may have a handful of copies in a dusty corner but even those often get damaged out after a few years due to yellowing. Thus no money for the publishers. Many libraries especially school libraries are buying stock through regular bookstore channels, where books are targeted for individual purchase by home users who probably would only read them a few times. We had tons of complaints on bindings on Harry Potter titles from school libraries demanding replacements on “poor bindings” and when we got the books back some of them had been checked out 40-50 times from the stamps in them and the cover art was worn off of them. Typical mass market books are not bound for that kind of punishment. If you spent the money to do good bindings, you end up with books nobody will buy including the major book vendors because they do not want to end up stuck with stock.

:eek: Bite your tongue!

Yes, damn a system that gives the people the freedom to buy whatever they want. Cheap paperbacks with glued pages ought to be illegal. Only the very best hard-cover bounding should be allowed. Damn the people for making the wrong choice. A soviet government would make the right choice for them. Stupid peasant masses. :rolleyes:

First, I’ll note that the OP was talking about a hardcover book, not paperbacks.

Second, I’ll note lack of choice. We can’t ‘buy whatever we want’ if ‘whatever we want’ isn’t being sold.

Third, I’ll note that I haven’t run into this problem much myself, with hardback or paperback books. I’ve certainly had books that fall apart of a first reading, but those were few and far between–I can’t say when was the last time I had it happen. (There certainly are books that behave as if they’re been glued with dust though).

ETA: Actually, I do remember hte last time this happened to me. The Mythic Tarot. Damn thing started falling apart before I was even a quarter of the way through. By the end it wasn’t attached to the cover at all.

Believe it or not, paperbacks or more durable than hardcovers because a paperback doesn’t have a hard spine that can break away from the pages. In a paperback, the pages are the spine.

And as drachillix said, a book that circulates 40-50 times has lived much longer than books are expected to live. If it falls apart, such is life. If it’s popular, it will be replaced and if it’s not, well that’s a shame, but also life.

And I will note I was not responding to the OP so it doesn’t matter.

I disagree. The market does a fairly good job of providing what people demand. If there is no supply it is because there isno demand. If the demand were there the supply would be there. But you can’t have the high quality item at the price of the low quality item. If you want the high quality you will have to pay for it. Most people are not willing to pay for it and the supplier satisfies their demand. If people wanted leather bound books with gilded titles then that’s what the suppliers would offer.

Me neither. I take good care of books and they last me a long time.

I am generally carefull with everything and things give me reasonably good service. I am surrounded by people who are rough with things and then claim they are crap. Just in the last few days I have repaired a computer power supply, a phone charger and a few other plugs and cables which were damaged by people pulling on them roughly, treading on them, etc. Things are not made to be handled like that. I suppose you could buy military grade stuff which will withstand more but it’s going to cost you.

It is specifically because content is less timeless than previously supposed. Why make a durable book about genetics when the knowledge base is still expanding? And who in the publishing world really thinks that the fiction they’re greenlighting in the Friday meeting si something bound to stand the test of time? Hence, make 'em cheap. Which means less physically durable.

Ran a thread on this last year.

Electronic book reading devices always seemed like such a terrible idea. We saw MP3s assault the recording industry. DVD burning assault the movie industry. I don’t know if publishing could stand up to that type of “competition.”

The OED probably takes up less memory than a single MP3.

When I see bookstores selling things like Kindle I silently think to myself how short-sighted they are.