Use media mail to send printed materials, sound recordings and video recordings through the U.S. Postal Service system. Savings are considerable as long as you're not in a hurry for your package to reach its destination.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The United States Postal Service (USPS) does not guarantee shipping times for media mail. The typical U.S. media mail time is 2 to 8 days, depending on how far the package needs to travel. The USPS does not offer media mail rates for international shipping.
What Qualifies as Media Mail
The following items qualify as media mail:
- Books (at least 8 pages)
- 16mm (or narrower width) films
- Printed music and test materials
- Video and sound recordings
- Playscripts and manuscripts
- Printed educational reference charts
- Medical loose-leaf pages and binders
- Computer-readable media
The following items do not qualify as media mail:
- Video games
- Computer drives
- Digital drives
USPS Media Mail Rules
USPS media mail rules state consent to inspection is implied. That means that the postal service can open the package, no matter how it's sealed, and inspect the contents. If you use media mail when you're not entitled to do so, you risk having the package returned to you. The package may be delivered with postage due, payable by the recipient. Fraudulent use of media mail can add to the delivery time and can make for poor customer relations if the recipient has to pay for additional shipping costs.
You may only include qualified items in your media mail package. However, you may include an order form or a single sheet, without an envelope, on which you've written a simple message such as "Enjoy" or "We hope you like it."
USPS Media Mail Rates
Unlike other classifications of mail, pricing for a USPS media mail parcel is calculated by weight without regard to the zone. You'll pay the same when mailing from New York to New Jersey as from New York to Washington, provided the packages are identical in weight.
Pricing for media mail starts at $2.80 for a single piece under one pound to $40 for a single piece up to 70 pounds. Commercial rates for the same weights range from $2.10 per mail piece to $39.87. To meet the requirements for commercial mail pricing, you must have a minimum of 300 pieces presorted by ZIP code or transported by you to a destination postal facility.
A library mail parcel is similar to a USPS media mail parcel in that it's a cost-effective way to send printed and recorded materials. To qualify as library mail, the mailpiece must show in the address or return address the name of a school, college, university, public library, museum or qualified non-profit organization.
Pricing for library mail starts at $2.66 for a single piece under one pound to $37.79 for a single piece to 70 pounds. Bulk library pricing for the same weights range from $2 to $37.67, with a minimum of 300 pieces. USPS media mail times and library mail times are the same, 2 to 8 days.
Compare Media Mail Pricing
To see the savings advantage you get when shipping via media mail, consider the cost compared to that of other classes of mail. Remember, zone pricing does not apply to media mail, meaning that distance does not affect the price.
Say you want to ship some books from Baltimore, Maryland, to Phoenix, Arizona. The package weighs 35 pounds and measures 12 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches. Here are the price comparisons:
- Media Mail (at the post office): $21.10
- Media Mail (commercial rate, pre-sorted): $20.40
- Priority Mail Express (1-day): $229.55
- Priority Mail 2-Day: $109.00
- Retail Ground: $91.05
Priority Flat Rate
The only way that Priority shipping might be cheaper than media mail is with Priority Flat-Rate shipping. The USPS requires that you use its boxes, sized small, medium or large. As long as the contents fit in the box, you can send up to 70 pounds domestically (20 pounds internationally) for one rate, regardless of zone. Medium flat rate is $13.20 and large flat rate is $18.30.
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.