Here is an illustrated guide for how to package LP records for shipping. This is geared towards both aspiring vinyl sellers as well as to my customers who may be curious about how their LP's will be packed. This is specifically for 33's (the large 12" LP records). While 45's (the small 7" ones with the big holes) have similar packaging available, 78's (the stiff and heavy 10" ones) are an entirely different ballgame and require considerably more elaborate packaging.
First for sellers is an important part of staying under the $4 maximum domestic flat rate shipping eBay allows: use shipping labels printed from either the Paypal or post office websites - they have some decent discounts for shipping paid for online, and if you use that, you can still afford to buy good packaging supplies while keeping your total cost of shipping + packaging under $4.
I use standard corrugated cardboard LP mailers, which I buy on eBay. They cost just a hair more than $0.50 apiece when bought in a quantity of 100, and that includes the cost of having them shipped to me. If you can find a seller close enough to you that you can pick them up, your actual cost might be considerably less.
Records have sharp edges, so it's important to remove the record from both the inner sleeve and the cover when shipping. It's also important to ensure that the record doesn't move around inside the finished package, so it isn't chafing against the other contents of the package.
A list of the supplies you will probably want to stock if you are selling records:
LP inserts (or comparable items)
New replacement LP inner sleeves
New clear plastic LP outer sleeves
Bubble wrap (12" wide, perforated into 12" sheets)
You will want the inners for when you have an album with a trashed inner (or even a nice record you find without an inner, which does happen rarely). Keep in mind that if you are adding a new inner to a package, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to toss the original. If it's a custom inner with song lyrics or photos, and is nice except for huge seamsplits or something, there's absolutely nothing wrong with including both the original and a new replacement. People dig that stuff.
To keep the album safe even though it is outside it's normal protection, here is what we do. Pull the album out of the sleeve and cover (never touch the grooves with your fingers - handle the record only by touching the edges and the label!), lay the cover down, and set the record on top of the cover:
Then place the inner sleeve on top of the record, so the record is sandwiched between the cover and the inner sleeve:
Now we slide this "sandwich" into one of our clear plastic outer sleeves.
The next step is to secure the sleeved LP sandwich in our mailer. Using inserts (which are basically just flat square pieces of cardboard), set one insert down on the inside of the mailer, set the sleeved LP sandwich on it, and set another insert on top:
You can fill the mailer either with more inserts, a sheet or two of bubblewrap, or possibly even with more records if you have extras (as any record dealer is likely to have). After packaging a few, you'll start to get a good idea of how many such items it'll take to fill the mailer so that the merchandise is secure and not sliding around.
So now we start the process of closing up the mailer. It's fairly straightforward - the flaps get folded up and over the contents:
If some of the flaps are too far in or not far enough, the corners aren't square and the package is not nearly as strong. Squared corners add a considerable degree of strength and protection.
This corner is bad:
This one is good:
(Note that for the purpose of this guide, I'll be using grey duct tape instead of my usual clear packaging tape, just so that the tape shows up in the photos.)
Once all the corners are good, I use two small pieces of tape to secure the top flap of the mailer tightly:
Then a larger piece all the way across the opening:
At this point the mailer could be considered ready to ship, but some dealers advocate additional steps which you may wish to consider.
Firstly, some folks like to place more tape along the edges of the flaps, in this position:
Sometimes the tape will go all the way across from corner to corner, but I find those packages to be difficult to open, so when I place tape in this position, I don't stretch it quite all the way from corner to corner.
Other sellers advocate additional pieces of tape to further strengthen the corners and keep them squared, in these locations:
I've used both of these methods at times - when I feel it may help or upon customer request - but I personally don't consider them 100% mandatory and have never had a problem arise from not using them.
With regard to inserts, I've run out of them at times and have used sheets of bubblewrap instead with excellent results. The most important thing is to ensure that the corners of the mailer are squared and that the album is not moving around inside the sealed package. I've only had two packages arrive damaged - one of them used bubbles and the record was perfectly fine, while the other used inserts and the album was destroyed. That's not to say that bubbles are better - in fact, it's questionable whether that album would have survived even if the inserts had been made of metal. I'll quickly describe both incidents so you can get a better idea of what your LP's might endure in transit.
Most media mail shipments take around 1-3 weeks, but a package I sent to a buyer in New Hampshire had still not arrived after six weeks. We made inquiries with USPS to no avail, and then one day the package finally arrived. The buyer reports that the package had oil stains and tire tracks on it - obviously from some sort of spectacular highway disaster - but that the album inside was perfectly fine. In this package I'd used sheets of bubblewrap rather than cardboard inserts. The buyer was ecstatic that the album arrived safely.
The other package arrived at it's Colodado destination in ten days or so, but was horribly mutilated. Even though standard cardboard inserts were used in that package, both the entire package as well as the album inside were creased and folded at a 90 degree angle. The buyer sent me a photo, and the record itself was literally folded at 90 degrees, so that if you laid it flat on a table, a third of it was sticking straight up in the air. I've no idea what wild scene must've transpired to cause that, but I suspect that nothing short of bullletproof armor plating would've saved it. (P.S. the buyer got reimbursed for the full price paid)
Sometimes international buyers will send a special request for either very strong and secure packaging, or for the cheapest shipping option. In cases where they ask for strong packaging, I'll try to use the inserts and some of the extra taping methods we've discussed. When they ask for inexpensive shipping, I'll use the bubbles, since they are lighter and will often bring the total package weight down to a slightly less costly shipping price bracket.
For domestic media mail shipments, if you're using one of the online postage methods mentioned earlier, your total cost of shipping + packaging for a single LP album using this method will be in the neighborhood of $3.00 to $3.50 or so, if you are buying your packaging in any sort of wholesale-type arrangement (which I highly recommend if you are selling albums regularly).
The packaging aspect of this total s&h cost will probably be in the neighborhood of $0.75 to $0.90 or so, depending on your exact materials. I've seen other sellers use and/or recommend other packaging methods which involve saving money and not using new packaging geared specifically for LP's, but rather by reusing other materials and saving money. While it's certainly possible that some of those methods may be adequate, it is my opinion that - especially for the cost of just a few coins - it simply isn't worth the risk.
Well, that's my rundown on packaging LP's; I hope you find the information useful.