Great Books Deserve Great Paper

High-quality stock gives readers lasting value

In the middle of the last century, the technology came about to produce better paper. Publishers began to adopt it for all books but (the cheapest) mass-market paperbacks.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening in the book-publishing industry right now. There’s a trend toward publishers trying to keep costs down by using cheaper, groundwood papers to print more types of books. Not just the mass-market paperbacks traditionally printed on those papers, but also hardcover first editions, literary fiction, and textbooks—items readers are likely to want to keep in their libraries for years. In fact, more than half of New York Times bestsellers are printed on groundwood paper.

The problem is, books printed on groundwood paper start to degrade within two or three years, yellowing and turning brittle. In fact, the process can begin after a single reading; sun exposure speeds up the decay. These books just won’t last, not the way booklovers want and expect them to. And using the cheaper papers may save as little as 10 cents per book compared to acid-free, permanent paper (also called free-sheet paper), which is designed to last 200 to 300 years.

Ironically, lower-quality paper can make books more, rather than less, expensive for book buyers. Consider this: The Library of Congress acquires about a million new titles each year that are printed on groundwood. As those books degrade, they’ll have to be replaced—a huge expense. Add in books purchased by libraries nationwide, and the problem mushrooms. And that’s not even taking into account the problem of books that go out of print, becoming irreplaceable.

Penguin and Random House use free-sheet papers for bestselling hardcovers such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World and Ken Follett’s Winter of the World: Book Two of the Century Trilogy; paperbacks like comedian Demetri Martin’s cartoon collection Point Your Face at This; fiction blockbusters (including John Grisham’s The Racketeer); nonfiction books (including Neil Young’s memoir Waging Heavy Peace and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In); and children’s books, such as Grisham’s Theodore Boone: The Activist.

Worth the Paper It’s Printed On

Look for these qualities in a paper to produce a high-quality, long-lasting book:

  • Compliance with American National Standards Institute/National Information Standards Organization standards for permanence. (All Glatfelter trade book papers meet ANSI permanence standards.)
  • An extra-bulk surface (or “finish”) that reduces book weight without sacrificing size (such as Glatfelter Offset).
  • High opacity, to avoid print show-through. (Glatfelter Offset, Conserve 15% PCW.)
  • End papers that meet ANSI/SIMRA (State Instructional Materials Review Association) standards (such as Glatfelter End Leaf).