Will Books Get Cold without Jackets?

By • Aug 25th, 2009 • Category: 26th Story, Books
Farrar, Straus and Giroux's No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Farrar, Straus and Giroux's No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

I read this article in The New York Observer yesterday about book jackets, and how some publishers are forgoing dust jackets in favor of stamping a design directly onto the cover boards. It got me thinking about how I read my books, and if I would actually prefer hardcovers without jackets. Sometimes I do remove the jackets before reading because they slip around when the book is opened, and they’re less likely to be torn or folded when set to the side. Other times though, I use the jacket as a bookmark, taking one of the flaps and inserting it between the pages. I tend to dog-ear paperbacks, but if I have a flap handy, I’ll use that. So, I personally value book jackets for the designs that I don’t want to ruin and the less obvious uses. The tell-tale designs also clue me in to what others are reading with a quick glance – if you’re on a Kindle or have removed the jacket, you’ve probably had people have to ask you what you’re reading before launching into a conversation.

The way most books are printed today, the actual boards are minimally designed with simpler fonts and two-toned material, with the understanding that there will be a jacket in place to please the eye. The jacket, which is easier and cheaper to produce, allows for range in the color, typeface, images, and even texture of the design. Printing or stamping directly onto the boards is limited, even if one were to design without a jacket in mind. Covers can still look attractive and appealing without jackets, but it’s more difficult to differentiate between books if manufacturers can only produce certain color boards and stamp certain typefaces. Since we all know that people do actually judge a book by its cover, jackets are still needed to make most books stand out.

This isn’t to throw out the idea of designing uncovered boards – in fact I really appreciate books that can offer an aesthetically pleasing and unique cover when the jacket is removed. (We added a little bit of flair to Who Is Mark Twain? by stamping Twain’s signature onto the board.) Maybe what we need is a happy medium, where books won’t be considered completely naked if stripped of their jackets.

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  • RichRennicks

    In a house with two kids the only way my book jackets stay unruffled is if they stay on the book. Putting them to the side while reading would not keep them pristine. They also make such handy bookmarks. I wish more paperbacks had flaps.

  • http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/3308 Dan Holloway

    That's a realy good design point, Rich!

    I've noticed some breathtaking jacketless books recently – notably some special editions of Booker winners with cardboard covers and tiny cutouts revealing jewels underneath.

    Of course we know what's going to happen now, but I'll release a plea nonetheless:

    Being the first to do something marks you out as cutting edge, a bit subversive, and beyond Indie. Being the one who takes that idea and makes it crossover marks you out as insightful and makes you both loads of moulah and the scorn of “the people who got there first”. Being one of the ones who jumps on the bandwagon marks you out as bereft of original ideas and soon to be on the way out. If I were a publishing magnate (which, sadly, I'm not – however, I was a buyer in carpets where the same happened and I WAS on the money) I'd look at the houses who jump on this bandwagon, mark a date 6 months hence in my diary with “call bank manager re acquisition of…(strip for assets)”.

    At the moment I'm excited by the spate of new and exciting covers. In two months' time I want to be excited by publishers doing something new and DIFFERENT.

  • Theresa Brown

    I like book jackets to use as bookmarks, too, but I actually prefer the feel of an unjacketed hardback book. Then you get just the essential “bookness” of the book. But more colors, typefaces, etc. are definitely needed if all books are to go this way.

  • http://www.danholloway.wordpress.com/ Dan Holloway

    But without going so far they look like Beano Annuals or themed diaries. I rather like the pared-down. It's what Muji did for stationery a decade ago.

  • http://www.stackedblog.com/ ChristinaO

    I personally prefer the simplistic beauty of a jacketless book. Dust jackets are often cluttered and garishly designed and occasionally have nothing to do with the content of the book (Eleven Seconds by Travis Roy, for example, is about learning to adjust to being a quadrapelegic – yet because he hurt himself playing hockey, that's the cover. The book is not gender-marketed, but guess how many women pick-up that book.)

    Once you have a full shelf, the dust jacket isn't exactly preventing the book from getting dusty. It's a waste of paper and resources and a well organized shelf means it doesn't matter if colors and fonts aren't jumping out at us to differentiate books.