'Tis the season to buy and receive books in the mail. As a frequent buyer of new & used titles, as well as receiver of review copies from the full range of publishers, I've seen it all when it comes to book packaging. Unfortunately, as a general rule, the situation is not pretty, and it's getting worse by the year.
Here is how I would grade the packaging methods currently in vogue, from best to worst:
1) Cardboard Book Fold: Grade A
The excellent Multi-D fits in this category, too. Properly fit and with use of a thick, rigid, multi-panel, corrugated cardboad, it is well-nigh impossible to damage a book shipped with this method, no matter the weight [at least, I haven't seen it yet] . The book itself, compressed inside multiple layers of cardboard, cannot move, and the thick corners extending far beyond the dimensions of the book preclude bumping. Unfortunately, the use of this method is fairly uncommon. Note: The book fold pictured here isn't an example of what I consider the best on the market (I couldn't find one), but just gives a general idea of what one looks like.
2) Cardboard Box: Grade A-
The mainstay of the traditional transaction between book buyer and seller, the use of a good old box has fallen to the wayside, especially with the influx of amateur selling on the internet. The only downside to this method (and thus my A- grade) is the internal packaging must be accorded the attention of a knowledgeable and experienced packager to avoid the book moving around internally and getting damaged.
3) The 'B' or 'C' Flute "Book Burrito": Grade B+
This is basically a single fold of cardboard of various flute grades cut to extra length (usually around twice the length of the book) and secured on both ends by heavy staples. I've had great experiences with this method when thick and rigid corrugated cardboard was used. The single thickness around most of the area contacting the book can cause problems when cheaper materials are used (I've seen that, too).
4) Jiffy Rigi Bag: Grade B-
In my mind, this is a far better compromise between max protection and economy than the execrable bubble mailer (see below). The Rigi Bag is thin and flexible enough to be lightweight, cheap, and accommodate a good range of sizes, but just rigid enough to give the book corners a good chance of not getting bumped. It also does a mostly acceptable job of fixing the book in place, minimizing cover rubbing. I have experienced good results in receiving books shipped using this method (actually, I am continually surprised at how well it works, given its non-inspiring appearance). A predicted vulnerability is compression damage from heavier objects during transport, but oddly enough I've never actually seen it, yet.
5) Bubble Mailer: Grade D
In my opinion, the worst thing to happen to book buying over the past ten years. It has replaced the box as the standard mode of book packaging (not surprising as it is very light and cheaply purchased in bulk). The bubble "protection" is an absolute joke, and the typical paper-covered types tear very easily. This packaging method is far too lightweight and has no internal stiffening, both of which lead almost invariably to hardcovers arriving damaged to some degree (commonly with the corners badly bumped). Softcovers fare no better. Books are not afforded even a reasonable chance of arriving at their destination in the original condition. Most of my review copies are shipped via this method.
6) Manila Envelope: Grade F
Yes, some people actually ship books using a plain old manila envelope. Need any more be said?