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I am wondering, what is the reason behind adding a dust jacket when a book has a hardcover as well.

Initially, the purpose seems to be obvious: to protect the hardcover below it, so that it does not get worn out with time. However, the idea of protecting something quite durable with something way more fragile while using this outer, fragile layer also as a medium for the visual design actually seems to deteriorate the design.

I have some books on my shelves that have dust covers - most of them are already torn somewhere, some severly, which makes them look bad:

  • in case of some or these, the hardcover below has exactly the same visual on it, so by getting rid of the dust covers, I would achieve more neat look of these,

  • unfortunately, in case of some other ones, the hardcover below is different, less descriptive and elegant; in case of these, removing the dust cover would deteriorate the recognizability of them.

At the same time, most of the hard-covered books I own, even though scrathed sometimes, are in a way better condition.

So, I find the situation like this:

  • if a dust cover shows the same picture as the hardcover below - it deteriorates the design, as in fact user ends up with a less durable outer part of the book, responsible for the visual presentation of it.

  • if a dust cover shows a picture, but the hardcover below is missing it - it disadvantages the design even more, as user is also made to make a choice between worse recognizability or more neat look.

So, what is the point of dust covers?

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"This has an interesting feature. It has a dust jacket. Books had these to protect the covers. That was before dust-repellent paper." –  L. Möller Mar 17 at 8:23
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Ha, nice one @L.Möller. The hell of it is that we're supposed to have dust-repellent paper AND hoverboards NEXT YEAR! –  Patrick M Mar 17 at 13:31
    
If you want to reduce wear and tear on paper dust jackets you can buy the same sort of plastic protective material that libaries typically use: ex amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=brodart+book+covers –  Dan Neely Mar 17 at 13:47
    
Reminds me of a story I heard about a tire company who were originally selling "whitewall" tires for about 75% of their tire business. To protect the whitewalls they'd be paper wrapped to reduce returns from scuffs during shipment. They opted to wrap all tires so the process was simpler. As time went by they kept selling more and more blackwalls but continued to wrap all of the tires. When they brought in process management people to review the company it was found they were selling less than 5% of whitewalls & it would save nearly $1M per year in costs to ship ALL tires without wrapping. –  Bee Kay Mar 17 at 22:35
    
Advertising/POP marketing –  DA01 Mar 17 at 23:40

2 Answers 2

up vote 25 down vote accepted

The idea is old and simple, and you already mentioned, the problem with your view, and the reason for not viewing the value of the extra cover comes from the fact that most probably you don't have old books.

old book

Before, hard cover books didn't have pictures or complex decoration on them, the covers where plain and simple, one colour and may be some lettering, usually in gold colour. That cover, usually was made of expensive materials and they looked very nice, so there was a real need to protect them. By those old books, I'm talking before 1940.

If we go even before that, book making a more precarious business, and books where also more precious, so protecting those covers from dust and scratches was very important< consider that time ago, books where more expensive and hard cover even more, so not everybody could afford them.

When the industry evolved on the 20th century, designs also where more ready available, but a good book was still made with valuable and delicate materials that where not suitable for printing presses, so decorating them was not an option, unless you printed that design on a piece of paper and wrapped the book with it.

Book with fabric cover over the cardboard protected by paper dust jacket

Book with fabric cover over the cardboard protected by paper dust jacket. Even when it's modern, the material of the actual cover is being protected with a paper dust jacket.

In modern times, book covers are made of cardboard and paper, so there is no real need for the extra paper layer for decoration, but as many things in life, traditions and expectations get rooted in our minds and behaviours, so hard cover books are still considered more precious and so, they deserve the protection. Consider your example of books that have a cover that is already scratched or torn, that could have been the actual book, when the cover gets too bad, you can throw it away, and you have a new looking book.

You can read a bit about the evolution of what is called the dust jacket on this article on Wikipedia. Of course there are more resources, but that one is a good start.

Another important element from the perspective of the publisher is that using the paper cover, you can have one edition, let say, in english, targeted to all the english speaking countries, and print different dust jackets, way cheaper than a different hard cover, where you target the specific market where you are going to sell the book, for instance, the paper cover for the australian edition may have comments from the local news paper, while the US edition has comments from a local US newspaper. Even more, if in a country the reviews are not appreciated, in that country you can print a sumamry of the book and in another one, you print reviews.

Also, you may have to print different information on that dust jacket in different countries, like tax, or suggested price, or a specific code that doesn't apply to other places where you are also going to sell the book.

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This is interesting and, indeed, explanatory. However, I do understand the historical point; the thing is it does not seem to provide an extra value any more. As you mentioned, there is a strong influence of tradition and expectations, so in fact it may be more skeumorphical. The real question is, though, if it is reasonable any more, as the function is in question here, in my eyes, in times when books are cheap and have strong hardcovers. And even from the selling point of view, there is usually some additional wraparound with some extra CTA (like "Bestseller!" or "Over 99 trillions sold!"). –  Dominik Oslizlo Mar 17 at 7:51
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@DominikOslizlo: I just added something that I forgot before, different text on those dust jackets. I have seen the same book with different content there. I don't remember about price and codes, although it may be the case, but I'm sure about reviews and summary because in some countries, like Spain, nobody cares what other people think about a book, what you want is the summary, but in other spanish speaking countries, or even in places where spanish is minoritary, but part of the market is spanish speakers, they write reviews and opinions, like in US. –  PatomaS Mar 17 at 9:39
    
@DominikOslizlo a number of modern inks (particularly red) are still vulnerable to UV fading; a paper dust jacket is still providing protection from things like that. –  Dan Neely Mar 17 at 13:45
    
PatomaS, regarding selling the same book in different countries, it's a valuable point regarding conversion centered design. DanNeely, you may be right to some extent, but... I doubt it really works like this. Books are usually put on shelves, so they are not exposed directly to UV; besides I don't really believe this factor matters much here, as there seems to be no connection between book value and dust jacket, e.g. I have a quite valuable edition of "World of Edena" in just hardcover and some dictionaries that are no bookbinding marvels, yet these are the ones that have it. –  Dominik Oslizlo Mar 17 at 21:50
    
I was shocked to learn that paperback books were invented in the early 1800's. I had assumed they were a much more recent invention with non-hardbound print materials restricted to loose-leaf format (such as pamphlets or newspapers). Very nice post, PatomaS. –  Patrick M Apr 10 at 13:58

I think understanding book jackets can be done with some quick marketing analysis.

Reasons for it:

  • It's a cheap way to put a book in a bright colorful wrapper, to grab consumers' attention when on the bookstore shelves (or to deliver what was promised if bought online).
  • It serves to advertise the book when carried around by a reader.
  • It provides the book with an extra, if miniscule (sorry, Patomas, for minimizing this), layer of protection.
  • It also creates value for users when used as a book-mark (my only reason for using them!)
  • Quicker Obsolescence: it will wear out quickly (relative to the actual binding), and book-buyers who prefer bright, shiny, and new book covers will have a reason to pay the new premium versus the used at a discount, and perhaps repurchase their favorite novel.

Reasons against it:

  • Cost to manufacture (pennies at volume)

Verdict: Any sane marketer would choose to bear the expense of the book jacket.

I don't buy books much anymore, and when I do, I typically buy the cheapest used ones on Amazon. Books that I do care about, I don't have in jackets, but I might keep them in a box-sleeve if they're collector-type editions. But I'm not the average book consumer.

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