Often overlooked and under-considered is book cover lamination, or the finish which gives the book protection from the world around it. Lamination can change the visual and tactile experience of shopping for or reading a book. It can also affect the perceived quality and value of the book. Let's review a few of the pros and cons of gloss and matte finishes for soft covers (paperbacks).
Gloss laminate is visually stunning. It produces deeper, cleaner and crisper lines and colors, and gives vibrancy to cover photos. The glossy, reflective finish grabs attention and implies a richer product. Gloss laminate is durable in that it repels dust, dirt and fingerprints. Even when it does come into contact with surface dirt, it is easily wiped clean. Gloss is the standard for trade paperbacks.
Some considerations to make when choosing gloss lamination: Scuffs, scratches and indents can be more visible with gloss covers - by nature of the glossy reflective finish, the imperfections catch light and draw attention. The vibrancy of color and sheen of the finish can sometimes overshadow the subtlety of an understated cover design.
Matte Laminate is often described as a more professional and elegant finish. Matte is currently the more "fashionable" choice for laminate. It is currently very popular among Young Adult titles. Authors, designers and consumers are enamored with the look and feel of matte lamination. The velvety texture of the finish makes for a pleasant tactile experience. The matte soft cover finish is less reflective than gloss, giving a more natural look to cover art. A less shiny cover absorbs more small scratches and scuffs without looking "beat up". The simple contrast of a matte cover among many glossy covers may draw it's own attention on the bookstore shelf.
A few caveats regarding matte lamination: While many love the soft feel of matte lamination, the texture can be unusual and unexpected for some. The less reflective finish can lessen the intensity of cover color, producing a more "washed-out" or muted palette. Matte lamination can produce lower contrast on darker colors, resulting in an overall softer look. While scratches and scuffs are more readily absorbed by matte lamination, this finish can be more susceptible to stains and spills.
In the end, laminate is a personal preference - that can only really be evaluated with book in hand. Ordering proof copies of your book in different laminates can give you the ability to compare and contrast finishes on your own, side by side before you order many copies. You may even choose to produce the same title in both finishes to appease all audiences!