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One of my first exposures to shipping via media mail came before I even started reselling on eBay. My wife encouraged me to sell my textbooks on Amazon at the end of every semester instead of selling them back to the campus bookstore. I was all about making more money but, like most people in my generation, had hardly ever sent a package before. So when my books finally started to sell I knew I had better figure out how to send them if I wanted to get paid.
I simply wrapped my physics book up in brown paper, took it to the post office counter, and told them I wanted to ship it the cheapest way possible. I ended paying about $3.00 to send it via media mail but was warned that “it might take a while.”
Once we started getting into the full-swing of reselling and realized that we were spending over $1,000/month on shipping we decided that it was time to figure out how to save some money on shipping. In my mind, that meant finding out exactly what we could and couldn’t send via Media Mail so we could make maximum use of the service.
The Media Mail rabbit hole that I went down really isn’t that pretty. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding the service as well as a lot of ignorance. Ask two different USPS employees what you can send and you’ll likely get two different answers. To make things easier, I decided I might as well document everything I learned (as well as the sources for each) so you can be sure you’re on the up-and-up when you start shipping packages. So let’s get to it…
What is Media Mail?
Media Mail (also known as “book rate”) is a shipping class introduced by the United States Post Office in 1938. Its original purpose was to encourage the flow of printed media that promoted ‘educational, cultural, scientific, and informational values’ through the mail system. While this started off meaning books and printed materials, as technology has progressed the definition of allowable media has been expanded to included film and some forms of digital media.
USPS Media Mail Rates:
USPS updates (meaning “raises) their rates every year. Despite price increases, Media Mail still holds the position of the cheapest way to send books and similar materials. Prices start at $2.80. The minimum shipping price figures a weight of 1lb meaning that any book one pound or less will ship for $2.80.
Unlike other shipping services (such as Priority Mail) Media Mail rates are figured solely on weight, not on the distance the package is being sent. So, no matter if it’s going next door or across the country you will be charged $2.80 for the first pound and $0.53 for each additional pound. Increments of a pound count as a whole pound. So a book that weighs between 1lb 1oz and 2lbs will ship for $3.33.
If you ship a high volume of books (typically 300+ pieces per day) you can qualify for what is known as a “pre-sorted” rate from the Post Office which is really just a bulk discount.
As an added bonus, USPS added free tracking to Media Mail in 2015. Prior to that, it was a paid upgrade and you had to request it when shipping the package.
What qualifies as Media Mail?
The glib answer is, of course, “media”. However, it’s far more complicated than that. Knowing what can be shipped Media Mail is where 90% of the confusion is. Yes, you can ship books via media mail, that much is obvious. But what about everything else? Well, there is an official document but it’s pretty dense. Let’s break it down and talk about the most common media mail packages that you might send:
Things that are allowed to be send Media Mail
In general, Media Mail is meant for editorial and scholarly media in its final form. This precludes sending blank media/paper, things with advertisements, etc.
Books: In general, books are one of the most straight forward items that can be sent via Media Mail. Books sent must be at least 8 pages long and must not contain any paid advertisements.
Printed Music: Both loose and bound sheet music is allowed as well as play scripts/manuscripts for music, books, periodicals, etc.
Printed Testing Materials: Whether completed or yet-to-be-so testing materials (booklets, answer sheets, etc.) are allowed via media mail.
Film: Film that measures 16mm in width (or narrower) and it meant for non-commercial use can be sent via Media Mail. Blank film cannot.
Sound and Video Recordings: USPS gives the specific example of CDs and DVDs but this also allows for items such as vinyl records to be sent via Media Mail.
Computer Readable Media: Digital copies of books, manuals, or other non-advertising or entertainment based media can be sent via Media Mail. This includes floppy disks, CDs, drives, etc.
Things you can’t send via Media Mail
In general, things that are meant to simply entertain and are not educational/informational are not allowed to be shipped via Media Mail.
Entertainment Media: This includes anything with advertising, magazines, newspapers, photographs, comic books, etc.
Games: Computer games and other platform video games are not approved for Media Mail.
Blank Media: Blank media of any sort such as blank paper, unused journals, blank CDs/DVDs/Cassettes, etc. cannot be sent via Media Mail.
Some Books: Bound Material without sufficient supporting written text cannot be sent via media mail. This includes books such as crossword puzzles or sudoku, pattern books, poster books, cut-out books, etc.
Cards: Including trading cards, deck building game cards, blank holiday cards, etc.
So remember, just because something is bound or printed does not mean that it automatically qualifies to be sent via Media Mail. It has to have the purpose of disseminating “educational, cultural, scientific, and informational values.”
USPS is not overly thorough about the types of media that can and cannot be sent. Rather, they seem to outline some of the more common items and leave the rest up to the consumer to interpret using the “spirit of the law.”
Now, don’t assume that you can weasel anything you want into the interpretation. USPS reserves the right to open and inspect Media Mail packages. If, for example, you’re one of those garbage eBay resellers who send boxes of clothing via Media Mail you can expect that you will eventually be caught, fined, and have to pay due-postage on your items.
How To Pack Media Mail Packages
Media Mail packages can be sent much like any other item. Packing materials do not have to be on the approved list so you can obviously use things like blank paper as packing material.
The physics book that I mentioned above, however, was packed terribly. I had simply wrapped it in brown paper and taped around it and it didn’t make. I had the ripped paper (with the label) returned to me but the book was lost somewhere in the mail universe.
Media mail items are slow (meaning they spend a lot of time in transit) and hang out with lots of other heavy packages during shipment. If you are shipping items that may break, take this into account when packaging them.
Drawbacks of Media Mail
As you probably know, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Even if you are shiping nothing but books, something as amazing as Media Mail has it’s drawbacks:
- It’s slow. Media mail can take up to 8 business days. This means that your item can spend up to 2 weeks in transit. If your buyer is not aware, this can make for some unhappy customers. The good news is that it’s typically a bit faster, taking only 4-5 days to cross the U.S.
- Insurance. If you are shipping expensive items via Media Mail, you may wish to pay for extra insurance. The cost is based on the item’s value and starts at $2.25. Because we have had so many Media Mail items mishandled, we typically upgrade fragile or expensive items to Priority Mail if the cost is worth it.
- Weight limit. Media Mail has a hard and fast weight limit of 70 pounds. Any heavier than that and you’ll have to split your shipment into multiple packages.
Shipping Media Mail Packages From Home
If you’ve tried to go to the USPS website and ship something via Media Mail, you’ve probably figured out that it isn’t an option. For whatever reason, USPS has used their infinite wisdom to remove it as an online option. So, if you want to ship Media Mail packages you have two options: go to a store (boo) or use a shipping platform (hooray!).
I ship nearly all of my items through eBay where Media Mail is an option. If you didn’t sell your item on a platform with in-built shipping (or just want to send a book to someone) then your best bet is to use a shipping platform. While there are several well-known options out there, my personal favorite is pirateship.com. It’s super easy to use and gives you the best prices possible. What more could you want?!
Hopefully, that wasn’t too much to wrap your head around. As with everything on this blog, I try to digest the information as best I can and offer it simply enough that you can simply read it, apply it, and get back to your life/business. Media Mail is a great tool and knowing how to properly use Media Mail in your business can be a game-changer. Now that you know, get out there and start profiting! Happy shipping!