Casewrap vs Dust Jacket? Self-Publishers Make the Hard(cover) Choice

by | Jan 14, 2010

We call them “hardcovers” and people are fretting about whether they will go the way of the dinosaur, the buggy whip, the vinyl record, the 8-track tape players. But there’s life in the format yet.

It’s more accurate to refer to these books as “casebound,” and understanding what a casebound book is can help in the decision about how to bind your book.

Bookblocks, Case Wraps, What’s It All Mean?

Books are produced as two separate parts: the interior, otherwise known as a book block, and the cover. Because they are separate, you can glue a paper cover to some of the bookblocks, and you’ll have softcover books. Making hardcovers is a bit more complicated.

Instead of gluing on a cover, for a hardcover book the bookblock is attached to a premade case. Here’s how they do it in three steps:

diagram showing the details of a casebound image

Casebound details

  1. Three pieces of stiff board, called binder’s board, are covered with something, like paper, cloth, cloth treated so that it can be printed like paper, leather, or anything else you can cover the boards with.
  2. An extra, folded sheet of paper the same size as the book, is attached to the front and back of the bookblock. These are the endpapers.
  3. The flyleaves and spine are glued to the case, creating an integrated hardcovered book.

Dust Jackets

In the typical commercial hardcover, the boards are covered with cloth that has been stamped on the spine with the title, author and publisher imprints, and occasionally also on the front of the book. Sometimes the covers are partly cloth and part paper. Without their artistic or commercial dust jackets they would look very bland.

The jacket, which sets the mood for the book, or positions it within its genre, or provides hard-hitting sales copy, both complements and promotes the book. This same job is done by the paper covers on softbound books. And it can also be done by casewraps, where the paper used to wrap the case is printed.

Casewraps

But casewrap hardcovers can be a deeply integrated expression of the book within. The designer can use the materials at her disposal in printed and stamped papers, with all the finish we’re used to in covers and jackets, but applied to the wrap, the book itself.

This type of binding is common where dust jackets are impractical. Other uses for casewraps:

  • Manuals and reference books, where a jacket is unnecessary and cumbersome.
  • Cookbooks. I learned to cook with a casewrap edition of The Joy of Cooking, and it had a finish you could wipe with a sponge. Wonderful.
  • Textbooks, which need to be durable and economical.
  • Poetry books are lovely as casewraps. For many years a series of books from Peter Pauper Press were issued with pattern-printed paper casewraps, and they’ve become classics.

casewrap vs dust jacket peter pauper press example book cover
A casewrap from Peter Pauper Press

Casewraps are also less expensive than cloth-covered, stamped cases with dust jackets printed separately. Unless you are trying to do a major launch of a book into the retail book distribution channel, it may be hard to justify the expense of a traditional, jacketed hardcover. The upcharge from digital printers like Lightning Source, puts hardcovers well out of reach of normal distribution discounts.

For instance, a 200-page 6″ x 9″ softcover costs $3.50 at Lightning Source, already high when you take into account the 55% to 65% discounts you will need to give for distribution. For a casewrap hardcover, add $6.00 each, and for jacketed hardcovers, add $7.55 each. You’ll quickly price yourself out of the market when competing against books from offset printers turning out thousands of copies at once.

Use casewraps for the specialty books noted above, since it’s easier to command a higher price for these books.

Casewrap vs Dust Jacket Takeaway

For self-publishers, casewrap hardcovers or softcover books are the bindings of choice.

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