Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rating the various book packaging methods

'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?


  1. I still get some used books wrapped in brown package paper and mailed at the book rate. Definitely a F.

    Russell Martin

  2. Russell,
    It's gotten to the point that I feel I have to question sellers about their packaging before considering purchase. This extra back and forth is a bit of a pain, and undoubtedly puts me on their potential PITA customer radar, but it's almost essential. Site ratings mean nothing.

  3. Interesting post. I used to think that History Book Club packaging was overkill, but when you think about it their books arrive in mint condition. I've actually received books mailed in those annoying white plastic bag-like envelopes (some bubble padded, some not). That's as bad as using a plain old manila envelope. I mean, even the bubble mailer is better and that's not saying much.

  4. Drew,

    Is an F- grade allowed? I have received books in nothing more than a plastic envelope, no padding, and hermetically sealed requiring surgical removal with the potential risk of cutting through the dust jacket. Barring use of a whole roll of tape, at least the manilla envelopes are easy to open.

    I would also give a D- to the manila envelope padded with shredded paper. About the same protection as the standard bubble wrap, but invariably, no matter how carefully you open it, you wind up with a dusting of paper.

    Chris Van Blargan

  5. Chris,
    I had something like that. It was a huge vacuum-sealed polybag about four times the size of the book. A typical garbage option from large sellers that use the S/H fee as a profit center.

    I forgot about that last one you mentioned -- the thick mailer with the mulched paper in between the layers for protection. I see those a lot. The books, esp. hardcovers, nearly always puncture the inside to some degree, getting the item all dusty like you say. Weeks later you are still blowing out stuff that worked its way between the pages.

  6. Andrew,
    I have heard from sellers that some people do complain about packaging being too good (i.e. difficult to open or a waste of resources). I would guess that those people are those for whom price is the main or only concern.

  7. Timely post, Drew. I recently got a hardback book with badly bumped corners packed in a bubble wrap envelope. I use the cardboard folders and frankly do not see why everyone doesn't. They are cheaper and lighter! I was able to mail one of my books at a lower rate, saving about $.50 per book, than if I'd used other methods. And as you say, cardboard is bombproof (and recyclable).

    A good source is Uline (www.uline.com) and service is excellent.

    Fred Ray

  8. Great post. Neat to see all of the different ways I have received my books displayed in your article.

    I always hope that my books will arrive in good shape. I hate bumped corners, torn Dust Jackets, bumped pages. I have done pretty well and just hope my luck continues. I am very grateful when the book arrives in Very Good condition.


  9. Fred,
    I've seen that company recommended by others, too.

  10. Chris,
    Book grading could be another post altogether.

  11. Drew, I’m proud to say that in 20 plus years of selling books, I’ve never gotten one returned because of careless packaging. It’s amazing how little some publishers and booksellers care about this. They’ll put a book in one corner of a box and fill the other corners with packing material. With one corner of the box weighted down with a book, what corner do you suppose hits the ground first and gets smashed in when the box is dropped? The reason I always took so much care is that nothing makes me madder to spend $50 on a brand new hardcover book myself, only to have it ruined in transit. There is a certain publisher, lets say down south somewhere, that never seemed to be able to get a book to me without bumped corners. I always assumed the people in the warehouse there used to play football with the packages they put together before sending them out.

  12. Hi Clark,
    Camp Pope and Morningside were always two of the best. I haven't ordered from them in a while, so I don't know if MS still uses double-walled boxes for all their orders. I think your company was the first to send me a book in the Rigi Bag. History Press also ships using that method, to good result.


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