USPS Media Mail Service (updated 01/24/09)

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USPS Media Mail Service (updated 01/24/09)
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Media Mail® is an affordable way to mail books, film, play scripts, sound recordings, recorded video tapes, printed music, loose-leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information, and recorded computer-readable media (such as CDs, DVDs, and diskettes). The US Post Office offers its consumers numerous services, but for the many millions who've stood in line at the post office trying to differentiate what the various services are, the posters and price boards really don’t seem to give a specific understanding. Therefore, for those who are entirely unaware of it or for those who use it on a regular basis, I hope to explain how you can get the most from Media Mail.

First off, Media Mail is a very affordable service. You're charged by the pound; for instance, perhaps I sell two textbooks, each totaling a little over 3.2 pounds. With packaging, my total weight is not likely to exceed 7.0 pounds (see table below: Media Mail Rates). USPS would simply charge the cost of 7.0 pounds… a measly $4.33. Such a relatively simple system allows you to easily gauge the weight of your packages with your hand as ounces are immaterial; of course, this might take a little practice. For those of you selling books, the ISBN will allow you to determine weight (and dimensions) of text; simply find same text on eBay or just plug the ISBN into Amazon’s or Barnes & Noble’s website to find the total book weight. Unlike other services where cost is partly determined by zip code, cost of Media Mail is the same to any location. Sending package across the country costs no more than sending it to your nearest neighbor; thus, calculating a sum is much easier, and thus you can confidently list the exact price of shipping for your buyer.

Media Mail Rates (Domestic)

Weight not over (pounds)     1.0    2.0      3.0     4.0     5.0      6.0     7.0     8.0     9.0     10.0     

Rate ($)                                2.23   2.58   2.93   3.28   3.63   3.98    4.33   4.68   5.03    5.38

In terms of delivery time, USPS says Media Mail may take anywhere from 2-9 days, so on the upside, if distance is relatively close and post office sends out its Media Mail early in the day, a package could arrive just as fast were it sent Priority Mail. Numerous customers of mine have left feedback saying how quickly package arrived. Nonetheless, like any good businessperson, you don’t want to misinform customer should they ask about transit time, and you more or less should espouse eBay’s disclaimer if a customer complains that their item hasn’t arrived yet: "Sellers are not responsible for service transit time. Transit times are provided by the carrier, exclude weekends and holidays, and may vary with package origin and destination, particularly during peak periods." However, you should be willing to tell buyer the send off date (postmark), so they can gauge the maximum amount of time. I also think it’s a good idea to direct a buyer to USPS website, where they can use postage calculator to determine estimated delivery time. In my experience, I’ve found Media Mail averages about five days.

Media mail is clearly a great deal price-wise, but there is another huge key difference between Media Mail and any other service: liability. The reason you’re paying so much less is that the Post Office will assume NO LIABILITY for packages whose destination addresses cannot be located. As a consumer, you’re taking something of a risk because the undirected package WILL NOT make it back to you; in fact, USPS will discard your package if they cannot locate its destination address, meaning your return address means nothing once the "Media Mail" or "Book Rate" stamp leaves its imprint on your package. I’ve never had such happen, yet that doesn’t mean I ignore the possibility. Usually, in "Buyer Instructions" I ask that buyer be certain of their listed mailing address (if they opt for Media Mail). Another way to prevent loss would be insurance. USPS insurance is quite affordable (see table below), and adding it to your media mail rate, especially when package contents are expensive, will still bring you nowhere near the Priority Mail price.

Fee       Insurance Coverage

$1.70    $0.01 to $50

$2.15    $50.01 to $100

$2.60    $100.01 to $200

$4.60    $200.01 to $300

$5.55    $300.01 to $400

$6.50    $400.01 to $500

$7.45    $500.01 to $600 

As a seller, it may be wise to offer insurance to buyer at checkout for very expensive items, yet if buyer doesn’t opt for insurance and you have doubts about them (perhaps a low percentage rating, perhaps a high percentage rating but only as seller, etc.)—then just be willing to pay insurance on your own. Simply put, better safe than sorry.

A service that IS ALWAYS wise to use with Media Mail is Delivery Confirmation; for $0.75 you give yourself a decent amount of protection, and you can keep a buyer from pestering you about delivery time. By sending buyer the confirmation number (I usually contact buyer with confirmation number the day I mail package), you will show them just when you had mailed package (hopefully in your specified "handling time"). Also, giving the number to the buyer will allow them to determine what city their package is currently in, which should hopefully alleviate some of their concern. Here’s an actual Delivery Confirmation number from a recent sale (notice that shipment was completed within two days—the minimum delivery time):

Label/Receipt Number: 0304 1560 0006 9327 XXXX

     Delivered, August 26, 2006, 9:34 am, ANAHEIM, CA 92801

     Enroute, August 25, 2006, 9:59 am, BELL, CA 90201

     Acceptance, August 24, 2006, 3:34 pm, IRVINE, CA 92619

Another reason to use Delivery Confirmation, a more important one, is that it helps to protect against buyer fraud: you’ll eventually know if package ever reached its destination. I feel the Delivery Confirmation sticker alone is enough to discourage any malfeasance, but should buyer perpetrate a scheme, you have viable evidence if in fact you have confirmation of delivery. Finally, if package doesn’t make it to destination, then you know that up to four things could be true: one, address buyer gave you was wrong; two, address is right, but you recorded it wrong (not a worry if you print your shipping labels); three, post office made a mistake (this one is not nearly as likely as the other two possibilities); four, someone (not the buyer) stole the package. If you can eliminate the first two possibilities, then one of the latter two is very likely to be the case. If you’ve insured package, your Delivery Confirmation receipt is all the proof you need to submit a claim for reimbursement from USPS (note that insurance covers loss and damage).

Here’s an example of the savings in using Media Mail over Priority Mail:

Say you want to send a set of CDs that total 2.5 pounds with delivery confirmation (for sake of discussion, let’s ignore weight of packaging material). Assuming that all the CDs could fit into the Priority Mail Small Flat-Rate Box, you'd spend $4.95.

Comparison of rates at 2.5 pounds

Media Mail®:                   $2.93 + $0.75   = $3.68

Priority Mail® (flat rate): $4.95 + $0.65* = $5.60

(*Delivery Confirmation is $0.10 cheaper with Priority Mail)

Comparison of rates at 6.5 pounds (assumption here being that you'd have to use medium flat-rate box)

Media Mail®:                   $4.33 + $0.75   = $5.08

Priority Mail® (flat rate): $10.35 + $0.65   = $11.00

Averaging the cost of Priority Mail from these two examples, we have the following: $3.68 + $5.08 = $8.76/2 = $4.38 & $5.60 + $11.00/2 = $8.30. Granted the average I've generated is not entirely representative, it's clear that savings can be as great as 50%. The logic behind deciding comes down to shape and density. If you can actually get 9 pounds of media into the $4.95 box (what would cost you $5.03 using Media Mail), then by all means use the box! But it's highly unlikely any such media could qualify for such. To learn more about the potential saving flat-rate boxes and envelopes offer, visit a very popular guide, "TIPS SHIPPING USPS 70 POUNDS FOR $4.95? YES YOU CAN!," by mark1vws:

Media Mail is a very affordable service, possibly the most affordable one available when compared to all major delivery companies. Offering Media Mail as a shipping choice may be the difference between getting a bid or not getting a bid, and opting for Media Mail as a buyer could mean saving a good deal of money. If, as a seller, you’re not sure whether your particular media would qualify, inquire at your local post office… you WON’T be wasting your time!

Media Mail® Limitations:

1. "The maximum weight for Media Mail is 70 lbs."

2. "Media Mail cannot contain advertising except for incidental announcements of books."

3. "The maximum size is 108 inches in combined length and distance around the thickest part."


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