The last page of your favorite mystery novel probably offers this brief, final mystery: “Printed and bound in Berryville, Virginia.”
Just where is Berryville, you may ask. A question that can only grow when you learn that a town of some 4,000 people is responsible for producing some 140 million books a year.
A Trappist Monastery And A Printer
As Andrew Madigan of The Washington Post reports, Berryville is the seat of Clarke County, five miles from West Virginia. Buildings of note include a Trappist monastery, a soldier’s home and a very old pie company. With a population of 4,185, Berryville has a healthy, ironic sense of its own obscurity.
And yet, the town’s only major printer, Berryville Graphics (BVG), became in 1998 the nation’s No. 3 book manufacturer with a brand-new patent for its Duratech binding technology. This was a revolutionary alternative to traditional Smythe sewing that provides a ‘lay-open’ quality for easy reading. Using this new method, BVG could produce 110 books a minute.
Today, BVG leads the industry in robotics and computerized production. It was the first to use a new robotic technology equipped with a “physical arm,” which could do more than simply follow preprogrammed movements. This custom clamping mechanism, which took engineers 18 months to develop, has the dexterity of human fingers and a central nervous system, of sorts.
In 1986, BVG was bought by Bertelsmann, Europe’s biggest media company. In 2012, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced that Bertelsmann-Berryville would invest nearly $11 million in their Berryville headquarters, consolidating their regional operations.
A Single Trucking Day
But why did book publishing come to Berryville in the first place?
Short answer: geography. In 1956, Doubleday — then America’s largest publisher — was looking for a new factory site. Amazingly enough, two-thirds of the country lived within a single trucking day of Clarke County. Even better, overhead was low, and there was surplus labor. Berryville was also close to Doubleday’s distribution warehouses in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Naturally, other printers began popping up in nearby towns due to BVG’s success. At the decisive moment, however, the factory was built in Berryville itself.
Today, BVG produces 140 million books a year. The presses run 24 hours a day, seven days a week in this literary heart of America. They print for Dell, Bantam, Doubleday, Random House, and Simon & Schuster, among others and are responsible for virtually all the bestsellers on the weekly list. Berryville has turned out books by Nobel winner Kazuo Ishiguro, Grammy winner Bruce Springsteen, and President Trump, all in one facility.
It’s America’s melting pot — in print.
Check out photos from BVG’s operations on Steve Whysall’s blog and read Andrew Madigan’s original post on The Washington Post.