What is Media Mail?
Known as Book Rate from the pre-digital age (and still commonly referred to Book Rate among booksellers), Media Mail offers low rates to ship media items – such as books, film, audio and other recorded media –- that can add up quickly in weight. In fact, compared to Priority Mail (when purchased online), Media Mail can cut your costs practically in half.
Be mindful of other options, however. Media Mail represents great savings over Priority Mail, but if your package weighs 9 ounces than less, consider First Class Package Service, which is cheaper, delivers in 2-3 days, and includes USPS Tracking, an add-on for Media Mail). Here’s a look at comparative costs:
Media Mail can represent great savings, but it’s important to know exactly what qualifies for this reduced rate. For example, books must be at least 8 pages long (and can’t include any form of advertising). Film of 16mm or narrower width are eligible, as are video and sound recordings, and printed music and manuscripts in bound or sheet form.
While diskettes, CD-ROMs and DVDs may be sent Media Mail, game cartridges and consoles that contain a computer chip (like PlayStation or xBox games) are not eligible for Media Mail rates. Additionally, blank media (DVDs, CDs, audio/video tapes) don’t qualify, nor do trading cards, or photographs or photo albums.
Don’t try to rationalize ineligible items if they don’t fall into the Media Mail criteria – read on for why.
Media Mail offers exceptional rates, but delivery can run from 2 to 9 days – and even longer during heavy volume periods such as the holidays. Saving money is important to an online retailer, but your customers – who don’t always know the ins and outs of shipping comparisons – may be accustomed to receiving their items sooner. From the start, let your buyers know that Media Mail sometimes takes a little longer, and consider offering alternate USPS shipping classes, especially around the holidays.
With Media Mail, USPS Tracking is available for an additional 20 cents with shipping programs like Stamps.com, or for 70-80 cents via your local Post Office. That relatively small amount of money can be priceless when it comes to easing your customers’ minds and giving them the ability to track their packages in transit. As the seller, purchasing USPS Tracking means you can rest easier knowing that USPS will assume liability for damaged or lost packages sent via Media Mail – particularly if you’re dealing in rare or valuable items. Additionally, since your buyer will have the tracking information, you’ll spend less time fielding questions like, “Where is my package?”
USPS Employee Inspection
When you ship via USPS Media Mail, know that your packages are subject to inspection. USPS employees may open your shipment to verify that it can, indeed, be sent at Media Mail rates (see above for examples). If not, it’s very possible your package will be returned to you – and you could face fines or other postal charges as well. For you as the seller, and for your customers who could face disappointment, it’s just not worth cheating the system to save a few bucks!
The Bottom Line
If media merchandise is part of your small business, look into Media Mail for some of the lowest shipping rates available – but be wary of potential pitfalls. If you’ve determined that your items qualify for Media Mail rate and you can work with the delivery time-frame and the cost of potential extra services, it’s an efficient and cost-effective choice.