Being a Bookbinder in Portugal

I’ve received some interesting feedback on my recent post about the relationship of bookbinders and money. Today I’m posting a reply that came from António Campos Soares, a Portuguese bookbinder from Vila Nova de Famalicão in the north of the country.


I’ve just read your article Bookbinders and Money: Inner Conflict. Here in Portugal (and I’m only beginning to work as a bookbinder) the situation is quite different. I don’t really know the prices of the most famous bookbinding workshops (there are perhaps 2 or 3). However, there are some very cheap bookbinding services available. Sometimes clients don’t want me to do the job because, as they say, they know someone who does it cheaper.

Then, a few weeks later, they contact me again with something like: “Oh, the result wasn’t what I have expected and the book is ruined”.

Bookbinding

I usually charge 10€ per hour for basic bookbinding works (cutting/aging/folding paper, preparing cardboard). 15€ for a simple long-stitch book with 9 signatures (materials not included). If the book is larger, I raise the price. Prices on other works vary according to the techniques and the time spent.

Classes and Workshops

“Fancy” spaces run workshops with ±12 people and they charge 50-70€ per person for a 4h class. That’s just for things like four holes in the Japanese Binding.

I’m still thinking about the fair price for my own classes. I want to introduce people to the craft. To show how detailed this art is and make them aware of everything a job of bookbinder involves.

Conservation and Restoration

I don’t know much about conservation and restoration. However, I often listen to conservators complaining about their clients refusing to order services just because they think it’s too expensive. These customers often prefer to use cheaper services to get books fully resurfaced to look like new, instead of being properly repaired and restored.

What’s Else?

It isn’t easy to lay your hands on things like presses, brass tools for gilding or blind tooling here. Some little tools I find at vintage fairs but nothing really nice. I’ve tried to reach some retired bookbinders, but many tools were already given to museums. Other tools ended up in the hands of some anonymous traders. They often don’t even know what the tools are, what is their real value and sometimes sell them for melting.

Buying leather is very easy as we have a developed shoe industry with a long-standing tradition here in Portugal. As well as paper (and good paper is available too).

Studying bookbinding in Portugal is a very hard task. Sometimes you have outstanding opportunities like I had earlier this year. I joined the Ligatus Summer School that took place in Lisbon. It wasn’t cheap (850€ for two weeks), but it is a very useful investment.

Being a bookbinder here becomes a more reliable item of income if you only make books for sale and sell them to foreign countries. Mostly the USA, Canada, the UK, Scandinavian countries, Germany and Australia. Local people usually buy books like the ones I offer only at Medieval Fairs or Craft Events. And they always try to bargain the price down.

Often clients tell you:

  • “I bet you can do it cheaper”;
  • “If I bring you the leather can you do it almost for free?”
  • “I can do this at home, it’s very easy” (in that case I always invite them to do so and sell their works to me if they have the same quality)

Sometimes calculating the price is not an easy task for me, as I don’t have large experience or reference points. I know people who sell Coptic binding journals for 5-7€ (5-7 signatures with Coptic stitch). I can’t understand how they can set that kind of prices. When I ask them, they answer: “If we try to sell books for a higher price, people won’t buy”.

I and some other bookbinders and conservators are trying to launch an association to bring the market to some equilibrium. Time will bring more news and I’ll let you know.

You can find António on Facebook. He also has a Facebook page devoted to his business Ex Sapientia – Bookbinding & Leathercrafts, and an Etsy store.

If you’d like to share your own experience, please leave a comment or send us an email. You can also fill out a form to help us gather data about bookbinder’s wages in different regions of the world.

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