Why do hard bound books have a dust cover?

Some hardbound books have a sleeve or cover that seems to have no purpose other than to interfere with the reader’s desire to focus on the contents of the book. Can someone throw light on the purpose of this irritating appendage?

Mr R U Srinivas

Recently a friend had asked the above question on his Facebook wall. Below was my answer, which I am recording here for posterity :-) 

As someone from a publishing family, I can say this – the jacket (yes that’s the trade name) has useful purposes.

Generally, hardbound covers are made with a material called Calico and rarely leather (or its equivalent). It is not easy nor it is cheaper to print on them. Also, you can’t print in multi-colour on a Calico. Without multi-colour, the appearance of a book on a store shelf is not attractive.

Second, when a book sits on a shelf for a long time, the cover fades due to falling sunlight and artificial light, in those cases (if a book that sits for that long on a store without getting sold, a publisher has a bigger problem), it is easy to just change the jacket and make the book appear fresh.

Third, it is easier to change the jacket design with new content, vary the content based on the season/market/location than changing the inside of a book which is an expensive proposition – the content can include the price printed on the book (MRP equivalent).

Hope this helps and you feel pity for the humble dust jacket, that’s just doing its job.

Also published on Medium.

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