What is Media Mail?
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Understanding the rules for shipping Media Mail, and identifying what is Media Mail qualified
Many people who are trying to save on shipping costs find themselves asking ‘What is Media Mail?’ The short answer is that it’s an affordable method to ship educational materials such as books and DVDs through the U.S. Post Office. Understanding the guidelines and restrictions on USPS Media Mail will help you to save a lot of money shipping certain kinds of packages.
Shipping by Media Mail
Before you can ship a package by Media Mail, it must meet all USPS package preparation guidelines, including the full name and address of both the recipient and the sender. The Media Mail weight limit is 70lbs., so if you can carry the package into the post office by yourself, you can probably ship it Media Mail. The maximum package size is 108 inches in combined length and girth. The USPS offers a calculator for this if you’re concerned about the size of the package you are shipping.
For additional charges, you can get extra services for your Media Mail shipment including:
- Cash on delivery
- Return Receipt
- Signature Confirmation
The advantage of shipping by Media Mail is the price. Media Mail rates are based only on weight, without consideration of the distance the package will travel. The result is the cheapest method of shipping for all but the lightest packages, where First Class can sometimes be a better deal. You can get an estimated shipping price for your package using Media Mail and any other shipping method using the USPS shipping calculator.
These savings do not come without a price. Compared to other shipping methods, Media Mail is:
- Slower moving: You get what you pay for. Media Mail is a low priority service, and packages can take anywhere from two to 10 business days to arrive at their destination. To make sure you really understand what low priority means, the USPS doesn’t even guarantee delivery within those 10 business days.
- Limited to domestic addresses: You can’t get Media Mail discounts for packages traveling internationally. On the bright side, this saves you a ton of time filling out customs forms! The one exception to this is shipping to APO addresses; the USPS makes an exception for packages traveling to international Military and Diplomatic addresses.
- Very specific about the contents of the package: This is where the USPS maintains its focus on distributing educational material. Only packages containing specific kinds of contents qualify for Media Mail rates.
If your package is going to a domestic address and you aren’t in a hurry, you might be a perfect candidate to save money with Media Mail.
Qualifying Media Mail contents
The list of materials that can be shipped by Media Mail has expanded over time, as technology has altered how those materials are exchanged.
The list of what is Media Mail qualified is:
- Books of eight pages or more
- Audio or video recordings on CD or DVD
- Manuscripts for books and plays
- Sheet music
- Prerecorded information on computer-readable media and their instructions
- Film in sizes up to 16mm in width
- Printed materials for objective tests, including accessories
- Printed reference charts.
- Binders containing medical information for doctors, hospitals, medical schools, and students
Some of these categories are fairly broad in definition, encouraging people to game the system. As a result, the USPS also provides a list of items that specifically aren’t eligible for the Media Mail rate.
- Game cartridges or consoles containing computer chips
- Blank CDs, DVDs, audio or video tapes
- Video tapes with advertising, excluding movie trailers
- Photographs or photo albums
- Trading cards
- Films to or from commercial movie theaters
- Advertising materials
- Comic books
The USPS has the right to inspect Media Mail packages, to verify that the contents adhere to Media Mail rules. If a package is found to contain materials that do not qualify, it can be forwarded to the recipient with postage due, or returned to the sender for insufficient postage.
The history of Media Mail
Media Mail is considered preferred mail, which is a program dating back to first Postal Act from 1792 to prioritize the delivery of newspapers. The discounted rates were intended to encourage the dissemination of the information needed to have an educated electorate. Since then, preferred mail has expanded to include other methods of sharing educational materials.
Book Rate was created in 1938 by President Franklin Roosevelt to supplement the Library Rate of the 1920s, to offer the same discounts to individuals shipping books. Congress later expanded the scope of Book Rate to include new technology, and the name was changed to Media Mail.
Until 1993, the USPS was reimbursed for lost revenue on preferred rate shipments such as Media Mail, but this is no longer the case. Now the USPS must offset these discounts with increases in the pricing of its other services. We can let the historians decide what this says about the nation’s commitment to an educated populace.
So, after all of that, what is Media Mail? It’s more than just a cheap way to ship your books and DVDs, it’s part of an investment in the future of the nation. So when you save a few dollars shipping that used copy of Cannonball Run 2 you just sold on eBay, remember to hold your head high!
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