What's the best way to package books for shipping?
Books are usually lost because they are destroyed due to poor packaging, not because the postal service loses or steals them.
Generally plain paper or kraft paper envelopes are not good enough. They tend to rip from corners or even arrive empty. If you use paper, using bubble wrap or plastic bag inside and lots of packing tape on the outside is a very good idea, particularly for international mail. If you're sending more than one book at once, pay special attention to packaging.
Here are some ideas for packaging:
- Reuse a padded envelope with plenty of packing tape
- Wrap in plastic wrap or bags, then in heavy paper with lots of packing tape
- Tyvek™ envelope
- Use Heavy paper and lots of tape
- Buy new padded envelopes
- Hardcovers are best shipped wrapped in clean paper and then an outer wrap of corrugated cardboard with lots of tape
Pay special attention to the book inside of the package. The book should not shift in the envelope. Shifting of books inside envelopes, especially thin envelopes, is a common cause to lost and damaged books.
Make sure the book is waterproof inside the package. If the envelope is not watertight, wrap the book in a plastic bag and then put the book in the envelope. Many mailboxes are not weather proof and books end up water damaged.
Packages should always be taped shut, even those that have adhesive already on them. It is also a very good idea to add extra tape around the corners or edges, where a package is likely to get ripped.
Don't use any staples or other pointed fastener objects to close an envelope. These can be dangerous for a postal worker, or any person handling the mail. Always use tape.
A Priority Mail Envelope or Box from the United States Postal Service (USPS) cannot be used for anything but USPS Priority mail, even if it has been used. Don't turn them inside out and use them. If you do and USPS catches it, they will charge the receiver for Priority Mail.
How to ship within the US
Mailing inside the US to the US, it is cheapest to use Media Mail (a.k.a. Book Rate), but small mass market paperbacks 7 ounces or less are cheaper via First Class.
CAUTION: If you use the USPS Postage Calculator to calculate the price of Media Mail (instead of just using the rate charts above), you must select "Package" instead of "Large Envelope." Otherwise, the calculator will display only First Class and other rates -- not Media Mail rates. Media Mail rates and First Class rates do not depend on distance, but Priority Mail and Parcel Post rates do -- which is why the calculator requires you to enter the "To" and "From" zip codes. (Priority Mail and Parcel Post rates are more expensive than First Class or Media Mail rates.)
Quick Way to Figure Out Postage
- If weighs 7 ounces or under, send First Class Package rate according to their rate chart. (Can't use First Class Large Envelope rate because the envelope won't be uniformly thick, and might be over 3/4 inch thick.)
- If it weighs over 7 ounces but at or under 1 pound (16 ounces), send Media Mail for $2.23. Note: If it is over 13 ounces, and you you are using stamps, it must be handed to a clerk at the Post Office. Metered mail or postage printed from the USPS site online can be put on packages that are put in mail boxes.
- If it weights over 1 pound but at or under 2 pounds, send Media Mail for $2.58. See the over 13-ounce note in the above paragraph.
Note: Unless it's an unusually small book, it will cost at least $2.02 and probably $2.19 to send First Class. May not be worth it to weigh them all -- at most, it's probably only a 21 cent difference between First Class and Media Mail.
Even Quicker Way to Figure Out Postage
- If it's one paperback, send Media Mail for $2.23. If it is over 13 ounces, do not use stamps if placing in a mailbox.
- If it's two paperbacks, send Media Mail for $2.58. If it is over 13 ounces, do not use stamps if placing in a mailbox.
Notes on Postage
- What does a wrapped book weigh without buying a special scale?
- A paperback in a bubble envelope almost always weighs between 7 and 13 ounces.
- Amazon details give a rough unwrapped weight.
- Media Mail rounds up to the nearest pound, so even a cheap spring scale may be fine.
- Weigh and mail your books from the Post Office. You might need to mail from there anyway, since over 13 ounces, no stamps are allowed unless you hand the package across the counter to a clerk.
- Can I send magazines by Media Mail?
- No. See Media Mail Items.
- Can anything extra (such as BookMooch Cards) be included in US Media Mail?
- Certain additional materials can be included in Media Mail. For details see the USPS regulations.
How to ship from the US to other countries
Priority Mail International (PMI)
Sending books from the US to other countries is costly since the elimination of surface mail. All packages are now sent by airmail at a higher postage rate, so the PMI "flat rate" envelope is much more viable, particularly if you can fit 2 books in the envelope. If you use the USPS web site to print labels with postage, you can save 5%, and the flat rate envelopes and boxes are free, so you don't have to buy shipping materials.
PMI Flat Rate Envelope
There are two rates for the Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelope:
- $10.95 to send from the US to Canada or Mexico is ($10.40 online)
- $12.95 to all other countries is ($12.30 online)
A Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope must be used. The same Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope is for use both domestically and internationally. There is a 4 pound maximum allowable weight, and, according to USPS regulations, the contents must "fit securely in the envelope and the contents are entirely confined within the envelope with the adhesive provided as the means of closure. The envelope flaps must be able to close within the normal folds. Tape may be applied to the flap and seams for closure or to reinforce the envelope, provided the design of the envelope is not enlarged by opening the sides of the envelope and taping or reconstructing the envelope in any way."
You can order free Priority Mail envelopes from the USPS web site, and they will be delivered to your door. To order envelopes, click the "For Mailing/Shipping" link at: https://shop.usps.com/
PMI Flat Rate Box
There are three sizes of flat rate box. The smallest has the same costs and weight limits as the flat rate envelope.
- medium box
- 11-7/8" x 3-3/8" x 13-5/8" (rectangle-shaped)
- 11" x 8.5" x 5.5" (square-shaped)
- There are two rates for the "Priority Mail International" Medium Flat Rate Box:
- $25.95 to send to Canada and Mexico ($24.65 online)
- $41.95 to send to all other countries. ($39.85 online)
- large box
- 12" x 12" x 5-1/2"
- There are two rates for the "Priority Mail International" Medium Flat Rate Box:
- $32.95 to send to Canada and Mexico ($31.30 online)
- $53.95 to send to all other countries. ($51.25 online)
A Priority Mail Flat Rate Box must be used. The same Priority Mail Flat Rate Box is used both domestically and internationally. There is a maximum allowable weight or 4 pounds for the small box and 20 pounds for the medium and large boxes, and country specific restrictions must also be adhered to.
Priority Mail boxes and envelopes are available at post offices. They are free (provided you use Priority Mail). You can also order Priority Mail boxes from the USPS web site, and they will be delivered to your door. To order boxes, click the "For Mailing/Shipping" link at: https://shop.usps.com/
When you purchase labels with postage electronically from the USPS web site or authorized vendor to ship Priority Mail packages, you don't need to go to the post office. Shipments with electronic postage do not have to be presented to a clerk (if a package bears stamps and is over 13 oz. in weight, it must be handed to a clerk at the post office). You can give these packages with electronic postage to your carrier on his/her regular route, drop them in a collection box at a post office, drop them in a blue mailbox, or request a free carrier pickup at the USPS web site.
Make sure the envelope says "Flat Rate" -- the regular "Priority Mail Envelope" can not be sent at the flat rate.
First Class Mail
If your package weighs less than 1 pound, it is cheaper to send it via First Class mail than priority. It's about $5 to mail a single mass market paperback to the UK, compared to $11 for flat rate Priority. You cannot get this rate using the online tools and forms. You must take the package into the post office to get this lower First Class postage rate to mail overseas. It is an inconvenience, but when you are talking about a difference of up to $7, it may be worth the trip.
There is a major price jump above 4 pounds, and the longer 'white form' must be used, so it can make sense to split such a large shipment if possible.
First class international rate should always be considered for 1-2 smaller books most places, and always for Canada, where it is often cheapest (mass markets as cheap as $2-4), although marginally slower.
International shipments are subject to Customs examination in the destination country.
For envelope and package shipments, customs form PS 2976 can be used as long as the value of the package is under $400. This is the green and white form, and is affixed to the outside of the package, preferably on the front. If the value of the contents is $400 or more, the upper portion of PS Form 2976 (the top section of the green label) is affixed to the outside, and PS Form 2976-A is included inside the package.
For box shipments, regardless of value, Customs forms PS 2976-A with PS 2976-E must be used.
You can complete Customs forms on the USPS web site to declare the contents and value of your shipment and print a form that you can affix/include with your shipment: https://webapps.usps.com/customsforms/
Customs forms are available at post offices. You can also order customs forms from the USPS web site.
How to ship in other countries
- If sending internationally from the UK use Printed Papers service as it is cheaper, but can't include anything other than the book. See also Royal Mail Tips.
- For international shipping, use whatever is cheapest (even if it means it's slow). See more discussion below under the Pros and Cons of Shipping Internationally.
- from Germany, see Shipping from Germany
- from Italy, see Spedire dall'Italia
- For postage within Australia there are two products that offer great value for posting anywhere in the country. They are known as Prepaid Parcel Post Satchels and come in two sizes: for items less than 500g the satchel is $5.50 and for items less than 3kg the satchel is $9.60 (as of July 2008). The envelopes are red plastic and many post offices don't publicize their availability but all do have them available if you ask. In my experience unless you are posting one small book less than 250g between two capital cities these satchels offer significant savings over standard parcel rates (especially if you buy packaging as well as postage). You can put as many items as will fit in the satchels as long as you don't go over the weight limits.
CAUTION: If you use this calculator to calculate Media Mail rates, you must select "Package" instead of "Large Envelope." Media Mail rates and First Class rates do not depend on distance, but Priority Mail and Parcel Post rates do -- which is why the calculator requires you to enter the "To" and "From" zip codes. (Priority Mail and Parcel Post rates are more expensive than First Class or Media Mail rates.)
- Australia Post
- Canada Post
- Finnish (Suomi) Post
- Ireland - An Post
- Israeli Post International mailing prices
- Netherlands - Dutch Post office
- Portuguese Post Office (unofficial)
- South African Post Office International mailing prices
- Spanish Post Office National and International mailing prices
- UK Royal Mail
Printing labels and paying for shipping
USPS Click-N-Ship Labels
In the US, you can print out USPS labels for your packages from their webpage. These barcoded labels allow USPS package tracking and other services when sending first class/priority or express mail. They currently cannot be used for media rate mail. These labels can be printed out on plain paper, cut out, and the edge completely taped onto the package (as long as no tape covers the barcode), or specially-sized adhesive labels can be purchased. The process of printing out and attaching the label is about as easy as addressing by hand but gets you additional services and address security.
SwordFishExpress is a free stand-alone Macintosh program for printing USPS Click-N-Ship labels for domestic mail only: These labels include delivery confirmation for $.14 instead of the usual $.60., and can be printed and applied in the same was as the USPS Click-N-Ship labels above.
PayPal MultiOrder Shipping Tool
If you have a PayPal account, you can use their shipping tool to both print shipping labels (for use in shipping one or more packages), and pay for the cost to ship your book(s) within the United States (including via Media Mail). This tool requires you to pay 18¢ additional for delivery confirmation. This is much lower than the normal charge for this service. Consider this compared to the cost in gasoline and lost time waiting at the post office. Having a delivery confirmation number proves that your book was both sent and delivered.
Log into your existing PayPal account with the following link and follow the instructions for printing your labels: PayPal USPS MultiOrder Shipping Tool
If you don't have a PayPal account, you can sign up for one here: PayPal New Account Sign-up.
You must have either a credit card linked to your PayPal account, or a standing balance to use this feature - it takes 3-5 days to transfer money from your bank account to PayPal, so don't wait until the last minute if you want to use this handy feature.
Stamps.comis a full-featured mailing label program which includes many different delivery options (including Global Priority Mail) and destinations. You can print shipping labels with e-delivery confirmation. It requires a monthly fee of $15.95. For an additional cost, power users can integrate FedEx shipping into Stamps.com.
Endica is a full-featured mailing label program which includes many different delivery options and destinations. It requires a monthly fee of $9.95 for the standard plan. Premium and professional plans are also available.
With the standard plan you can:
- Buy & print postage from your PC
- Verify addresses & compute postage rates
- Save on Delivery Confirmation & Insurance
How do I change my address?
Go to your profile page. Don't include your country--it will automatically be added when you mooch an international book. Double-check that you entered it correctly; an incorrect address leads to slower delivery or even loss of books and returns to senders.
Can I opt-out of international shipping?
Yes. Go to your profile page and find "I am willing to send books to". Select "My Country...". There's also the option of "Ask me...", but if you're mostly willing to send books internationally, with the possible exception of very heavy books, choose worldwide shipping. It's less trouble, and more expensive shipping costs are a perfectly acceptable reason to reject mooches.
What are the Pros and Cons of international shipping?
While it costs more to send international packages, and the rates vary widely from country to country, sending books internationally earns you three points. Many members of BookMooch report that the three points are a very reasonable compensation for the extra shipping costs, and frequently better than 1 point for 1 book domestically.
When mailing packages internationally from the US, you will have to fill out a small simple customs form. It is easy to pick up a few blank forms from the post office to have on hand ahead of time (be sure to get the small green one, not the larger more complicated one).
On May 14, 2007, USPS international shipping rates for shipping from the US increased significantly. As of July 2011, International Priority flat rate envelopes cost $11.95 to ship Mexico and Canada and $13.95 elsewhere. Surface Mail is no longer an option, making it very difficult for many users to ship internationally.