For quite a while now, I have wanted to put down to paper some thoughts about the situation here in Greece regarding the book binding profession and the broader bibliophile interests in general.
I could not say that people in Europe have lost their interest in books as a direct result of the financial crisis. Of course the people to whom I am referring are the readers and the collectors. Their desire to read and collect books has not waned. It was of course, the lack of money in the market which caused a lot of collateral damages… It is well known tragedy here in Greece that one of the oldest bookshops in Athens, the famous “Hestia,” had to close down. Sadly, this was only the tip of the iceberg; a very powerful sign of what is and will continue to ensue.
On the other hand, there are the bookbinders, most of them, who always treated books with respect. The diminishing number of buyers certainly influenced their business. Fewer books were bought, which meant there was less work to be done. Traditionally, the largest “target group” for us are the pensioners. These are elderly people who have always spent more time studying and taking care of their libraries. Now that their income has been cropped, however, imagine what has happened. They have to take care of basic everyday needs, rather than luxuries such as their libraries. So, there is now no time or money for books. In the past, these people were the cornerstone of our business. They brought us many books for restoration or for binding that reflected their personal taste. We made more leather bindings than cloth ones then. This fact indicated that the clients wanted to have a spectacular personal library.
Things have changed now! As many public libraries close down one after the other, many bookbinders are forced to walk down the same path. Fewer and fewer manage to keep their businesses operating amidst serious financial problems. The VAT is quite high; 23% of the price. This figure also applies when it comes to buying bookbinding supplies. Of course, this leads to prices rising, but all the remaining professionals try to retain low prices, as a means to keep their customers. The quality of the work has changed also; no more leather bindings as in the past (the book binding in Greece was synonymous with the nice full leather cover), but there is now a lot of demand for cloth covers. Believe it or not, plastic has made a spectacular comeback! People just want the cheapest binding that offers a minimum protection for the book. No more fancy or rich decorative leather bindings. Of course, there are clients who still prefer a nice artistic work once or twice a year, but only when the book follows their precise standards and their personal taste.
I cannot say when this downhill course will end. It is certain that it will, and it has to. I am thankful to say that I do not believe that our profession will become a memory of the past. My only fear is that the habits of the people who love books will change, and there will not be many quality book bindings. The standard cloth covers, even when perfectly executed, are not to be considered the real artistic work. We have to remain optimistic that there will be good news and greater things around the corner.