Shrink wrap is sometimes used to wrap up books, especially adult-oriented ones and certain comics and manga, mainly to prevent them from being read by minors. Though, most of the time, you'll find books ready to be opened and browsed through without the inconvenience of first digging your nails into the clear plastic to free the book of its protection.
It's funny, because in these parts (Austria and Germany) you will find almost all Hardcover Editions of books (German language) shrink wrapped in thin clear plastic. I never saw anything like this when I roamed bookshops in the US or the UK, so it must be some kind of regional thing.
When I was still working at a bookstore many, many years ago (now I'm feeling old, ha) I remember how much I hated those plastic wraps. There would always be one opened book so people could take a look inside, but somehow this never kept people from opening other books by themselves, probably thinking their was a different content in the same book!? I had and still have no clue why people did, and probably still do, this.
The worst was when we had this big and expensive Anne Geddes tome and at the end of the first week there were five opened volumes. Of course no one wanted to buy those. They wanted new and shrink wrapped books. Can't say I blame them as pretty much all those Anne Geddes books were far from being in pristine condition anymore. Some looked like a tractor had run over them. Twice. One can only hope these folks, of which I'm assuming they like babies, treat their own kids better than they treated those books. Seriously!
Apart from getting my blood pressure up when I found the sales floor littered with disposed plastic and dozens of needlessly opened books, those plastic wraps also presented a different kind of pain. You could either open them Neanderthal-style, dig your nails in and simply tear, or you could use scissors. In the first case your nails weren't exactly thankful and in the second case you had to be really careful not to damage the book. On second thought, no one wanted to buy the pawed through books anyway.
Personally, and I hate to admit this, I am really not much better. Of course I'd never rip open books and risk the wrath of bookshop employees, but if I had to choose between buying an opened book or one that's flashing a shiny plastic wrap I'd always take the latter *shrugs*.
As to the question why Hardcovers here are usually shrink wrapped, I must say I have no idea. I haven't been able to find any explanations other than the most obvious, to protect the book from getting filthy. Personally I don't find it necessary, especially considering all the plastic that needs to be disposed of can't be good for the environment either.
What are your thoughts on shrink wrapped books? Let me know.