Reinventing the Book

by Ray Matthews on January 12, 2004 at 12:18 PM

The book is IN. Just when you thought that the future would be in eBooks and in the digital consumption of literary works, along comes Kevin Parker. This inventor of automated binding systems is insuring that the old familiar feel of curling up with a book in hand will continue for future generations of readers. At the same time, his invention will be reinventing libraries and turning the publishing world on its head.

Fastback Binding Systems by Powis Parker, Inc. allow libraries, schools, and copy shops to profitably print and bind single or multiple copies of books on-demand. At prices ranging from $1,395 to $4,295 these compact machines, the size of desktop printers, are easily affordable. The systems support tape binding, perfect binding (paperback) and case binding (hardback) books and documents of up to 350 sheets (700 pages). The systems are available through a network of 200 dealers in 60 countries. The company holds 11 patents for binding-related technologies and innovations.

The secret (and the profit) for Powis Parker is in the glue. Kevin Powis Parker was a young man with a goal to invent a better adhesive for book binding. He dropped out of UC Berkeley to pursue his dream. Professionals told him there no money to be made at it. But with the continued encouragement of his high school teacher and mentor, Jim Kelley, he kept at it. Parker says "the way I made any of the big steps was out of ignorance." Such is it with many great inventions.

The company sells the adhesive strips that cost 25 to 38 cents each. They are both durable and attractive withstanding more than 50 pounds of pull while not getting brittle with age. Fastback Binding Systems are currently in use by all branches of the Federal government including the White House copy room and at copy shops such as Kinko's, Sir Speedy, and AlphaGraphics.

Like RSS news syndication this appears to be one of those disruptive technologies that will transform the way we share and consume information.

Libraries will be able to print and bind works that are in the public domain in-house in less than five minutes. The system can also rebind existing books with new covers at costs ranging from 28 cents to a dollar, less than a one-quarter of the cost to libraries of sending books out. Library technical services departments will come to resemble a Kinko's. Distribution will be on demand. No longer might there be too few copies of popular works. No longer will libraries need to maintain an inventory of unpopular tomes gathering dust on miles of shelving. Libraries will be able to greatly reduce costs (now about $35 per volume) by cutting back on the cataloging and processing of books for their own permanent collections. What if you're the only library patron in this hemisphere wanting a particular volume? No problem, at a dollar or so per copy, your library can afford to print it for you. The price to you might be what you'd expect to pay for an overdue fine.

Coupling the means of publishing with the availability of terabytes of digitally preserved publications and government documents is the librarian's dream. It is the nexus of the old world print media and the digital new media. I can already see the genealogists salivating. All of sudden those hundred year old, rare, out-of-print gems laden with family and local history could be available at every local library. If you find an out-of-print volume in the Library of Congress catalog, you just tell your librarian, "I want this." Self publishers, too, such as family historians and scrap bookers will now have a ready means for printing and binding their own histories and family albums.

Radio penetrated the Iron Curtain. The Internet brought global ecommerce and person-to-person communication to every continent. The basic tool of literacy, the book, is still beyond the reach of many in this world. Fastback self-publishing has the potential of bringing information and fostering education and democratic institutions to underserved populations.

Could this invention revolutionize the publishing industry? You betcha. Could its use revolutionize intellectual property law. I expect so. I'm sure the Chicken Little's in publishing will view it a threat just as peer-to-peer was to the digital recording industry. As a librarian, though, I hail Mr. Parker as the Gutenberg of our generation. He is someone whose invention will put books in the hands of millions of people who otherwise would be deprived of such access.

So much hyperbole? I don't think so. If it's not this particular glue strip it will be someone else's that makes it happen.

As a proof concept, the genius behind the Internet Archives, Brewster Kahle, already has a bookmobile touring Uganda under a grant from the World Bank. Complete with a satellite disk, computer, printer, and Parker Powis Fastback binder, this bookmobile stops at villages and produces books for children, in minutes, in their own language. Kahle simply says, "it's wild."

-- Ray Matthews, Utah State Library

Read more: Powis Parker, Inc. | San Francisco Chronicle, Nov 12, 2003 | NPR Morning Edition, Jan. 12, 2004 (audio)


Great stuff. I'm forwarding it to a friend in the U. publishing business. We have an ongoing discussion about just this topic. Thanks. Al

Posted by: Al Sherwood at January 12, 2004 03:25 PM

Could we persuade you to send us a free specimen hardback volume produced on your equipment, plus additional information materials, including price lists ?

Professor Poul Steen Larsen
Royal School of Library and Information Science
23 Birketinget
Copenhagen, DENMARK

Posted by: Poul Steen Larsen at February 19, 2004 03:41 AM

I am in a business class, doing a research paper on book binding, and publishing books. I am having a hard time finding documents on book binding- or how to bind books, and most of what I have found is companies that want to sell me books on how to bind books! I don't need to buy how to books, I need some form of document, or explanation of how to bind books, and how to publish books. Is there anyone that can help me? Research paper due in 3 weeks- 10-15-2004. Any help will be greatly appreciated, thanks.
A. Hannagan

Posted by: Andra Hannagan at October 1, 2004 12:11 AM