Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The books is in the mail...

I was talking to another author today as we were planning a joint marketing direct mail. We were discussing how we would fulfill the orders and I was shocked to hear she had been mailing her books 7-day parcel post! This was costing her $4.55-$6.67 per book (depending on zone of the two addresses) when she could have been shipping them for $2.58!! So I thought today’s post should be about shipping options.

For people who sell books the USPS beats FedEx, UPS, and DHL hands down. Primarily because of Media Mail. Media mail is special discounted posted specifically for the printed word (You are using it when shipping manuscripts - right?). In general you will be using one of the following:
  • Media Mail – cheap shipping anywhere in the US
  • Priority Mail fixed price envelope – inexpensive 1 – 2 day delivery service
  • International Fixed price envelope – best alternative for foreign countries
  • Priority fixed priced boxes – best alternative for 3 - 10 books
Media Mail is used for books, film, manuscripts, printed music, printed test materials, sound recordings, play scripts, printed educational charts, loose-leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information, videotapes, and computer-recorded media like CDs and diskettes. Media Mail cannot contain advertising.

Media mail does take longer to arrive, 7 – 10 days is what is listed on the USPS website but my experience is sometimes it arrives in 2 – 5 days. To get the Media Mail postage you must clearly place MEDIA MAIL on the outside of the envelope, or use a printed Media Mail label (more on this is a minute). If you are shipping a large number of books in one order – there is some limitations on the size of the box that can be used for Media Mail (The maximum size is 108 inches in combined length and distance around the thickest part). In most cases you only have to worry about the weight. The current prices as of the date of this post are:

Weight Price
1 lb or less $2.23
1 lb 1 oz 2 lb $2.58
2 lb 1 oz 3 lb $2.93
3 lb 1 oz 4 lb $3.28
4 lb 1 oz 5 lb $3.63

For other weights or up to date postal costs click here. Most single book sales will fall into the $2.58 category. Be sure to you are accounting for the weight of packing material not just the book weight.

Fixed price envelope
What if your customer wants to pay for “faster delivery” – there is a great option for this as well – Priority Mail Fixed Price envelope. The nice thing about this is they give you free packing materials (the envelope), and free tracking costs $4.80 to send it anywhere in the US. The weight of the package does not matter just that your book fits and closes on its own – you can’t have extra tape sealing it because you put in too much. Depending on the size of your book you most certainly should be able to get one book in one of these envelopes. In the case of my husband’s book I can put two side by side and “just” get it closed. So whenever I get a 2 book order I send it priority mail (The customer gests it faster and I save $0.36).

Multiple book orders – Fixed priced boxes
If you are mailing several books you might want to consider the Priority standard sized box – again the shipping material (box) is free and it does not matter how much or what you put in it just as long as they fit. There are two sizes of “standard sized boxes” the costs are shown here”

12” x 12” x 5 ½”$13.50$32.95$53.95
11 7/8” x 3 3/8” x 13 5/8”$10.35$25.95$41.95

A good resource to keep handy is the USPS Calculator. If you are doing an unusally sized piece then this is a good link to calculate the postage for it.

INTERNATIONAL MAIL – Non Canada & Mexico
When shipping international the best choice is the “fixed priced” international envelope – you use the same fixed priced priority mail envelope mentioned above and the cost is $12.95 to send anywhere in the world. I used this to send a book to Romania once and it worked out quite well. (The book stores in Romania don’t carry all the US titles)

The reason I excluded Canada and Mexico above is there are lower priced alternatives for our close“neighbors”. The price for boxes is shown above. For the fixed price envelope it is $10.95. There is no support for media mail to any country other than the US so it is best to just take the package to the post office and have them do the postage for these countries. My experience that shipping to Canada for my weight of book is about $5.50.

Tracking Priority Mail
When you ship with the priority options you get tracking for free – IF you use software to generate the printing label (which is a good idea anyway since it will standardize and validate the address etc). The easiest way to do this is print the label directly from the USPS site. Accounts are free from the US Postal Service. You can simply print the labels or also buy the postage when you print the label via a credit card. You can even save the addresses in a database so you can remail in the future. NOTE: This CANNOT be used to print a label for Media Mail. I don’t know why the USPS has not added support for this yet. When it does I’ll update this post.

Tracking Media Mail
For media mail you can get tracking for $0.18 more. A bargain at twice the price when you get a buyer telling them they did not receive the book you can see the tracking. The only way I know to do this is to generate the Media Mail label from a shipping program. The good news is there is a free one associated with PayPal so if you use this for credit card processing you will have this capability.

In these post 911 times an important thing about mailing books should be mentioned – the 13 oz rule. In general if you are mailing something more than 13 oz (which almost all books with shipping materials will be) – you can’t just put a stamp on it and drop it in the postbox at the side of the street. You MUST go to the post office…but there is an exception. If you print your mailing labels, from either the USPS, stamps.com, or Paypal then you can put them in any mailbox. The issue is traceability. When you use a printed label they can trace that back to you by how you paid for it (usually a credit card or PayPal account) if you sent a bomb or Anthrax they would be able to find you.

Bottom line – if you hand label and use a stamp – go to the post office. If you use labels and pay for postage online – mail them anywhere you like.

Well....that's all there is too it!! Much longer post then I would have thought but it does explain all the gorey details. Enjoy!

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