Anyone who wants to use USPS’s Media Mail service needs to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the rules of this service if they want to send mail effectively and not face extra charges. There are quite a few things that you need to bear in mind, as this service is very specific, so let’s look at the rules of sending mail with this service.
Media Mail is a service that is intended to help people send educational materials quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. It is therefore really only intended for printed documents and some video and sound recordings, and not other mail. If you are sending other kinds of mail, you should choose a different USPS shipping service.
What Is Media Mail?
Media Mail is a service provided by USPS in order to help people ship educational materials around the country. It is often utilized by people who want to send papers, which are often very heavy considering their lack of value.
Shipping books and medical records and magazines by the standard methods can be very expensive and this has been problematic in the past, so USPS mail has created a service intended just for these materials. It is not the fastest service, but it is economical.
However, only certain things can be sent using this service, so before you mail anything, you need to check whether it is appropriate to send via Media Mail.
What Can You Send Using Media Mail?
So, what does this mail service cover? Below, you will find a list of the things that can be sent using Media Mail:
- Computer-readable media (but not video games, digital drives, or computer drives)
- Printed music
- Test materials
- Books (eight pages or more)
- Video recordings
- Sound recordings
- Medical binders and loose-leaf pages
- 16 millimeter films or those of a narrower width
- Printed educational reference charts
- CDs and DVDs
Note that Media Mail items must weigh less than 70 lb.
You cannot send things like:
- Comic books
- Advertising (although there may be incidental references to other books/sound recordings in these media forms)
- Video games
- Flash drives
- Non-educational media
If you post these items using Media Mail and you are caught, USPS will charge you additional postage, plus potential extra costs (such as an additional handling fee). It is not a good idea to send packages containing non-educational material via this service.
Sometimes, the recipient will be charged the extra fee before they are allowed to receive the package.
How Much Does Media Mail Cost?
The price is one of the attractive aspects of Media Mail, and it is why many people are tempted to send unsuitable items via this service – because it is much cheaper than the standard mail.
The cost will be determined by the weight of the item that you are sending, and not on the zone that you are mailing it to. Your parcel will be weighed at the post office, and prices start at around $3.00.
The price will then go up per pound of weight, so it is best to take your parcel to the post office so they can weigh it and give you a cost estimate. It is rare to get any discounts on Media Mail, since it is already so cheap, but some businesses may be able to access cheaper rates.
In 2021, the Media Mail rates were as follows:
For one pound, $3.19
For two pounds, $3.82
For three pounds, $4.45
For four pounds, $5.08
For five pounds, $5.71
As you can see, the increase per pound is $0.63 each time, and this continues all the way up to 70 pounds. At 70 pounds, you would be paying a full $46.66, but considering the weight, this is a very reasonable price. Some other prices you may find useful are below.
Remember, you can visit the USPS website or drop into a post office to get your parcel priced once it has been packaged.
For ten pounds, $8.86
For twenty pounds, $15.16
For thirty pounds, $21.46
For forty pounds, $27.76
For fifty pounds, $34.69
For sixty pounds, $40.37
Always get up to date information before depending on a shipping cost, as these are subject to change year on year. Note that if your item is between pounds, it will be rounded up, not down.
Can I Send Non-Educational Material Via Media Mail?
No, you cannot send non-educational material via the Media Mail service. It is specifically aimed at making the mailing service cheap for media and educational material. You can send any books, besides graphic novels, but the materials must be educational and not contain advertising.
If you wish to ship anything that is not listed in the above sections, you will need to find another postal service, even if the item is arguably educational. Flash drives, hard drives, and other media are not permitted.
Can I Send It If There Is Also Educational Material?
You might be wondering whether it’s okay to slip the occasional other thing into a Media Mail parcel. For example, if the package is a gift, you might want to add a bar of chocolate, a bookmark, a shirt, or any other item as well as the media you are sending.
Unfortunately, you cannot do this, no. You can only send media items. Even a bookmark will cause your package to be charged at a different rate, and you will be asked for additional postage costs.
Because the whole parcel will no longer count as Media Mail, this can add up to a lot very fast, especially if it was heavy. Do not slip any other materials into your Media Mail parcels, or you will end up paying a lot of extra money to ship them. It is not worth taking this risk.
Anything not on the list above could disqualify your package from the Media Mail service.
Do USPS Actually Check The Contents of Media Mail Packages?
You might be wondering whether you are likely to get caught if you do this. After all, many packages never get checked, even if a list of their contents is requested. How likely are USPS to realize if you have added something unsuitable to a Media Mail package?
USPS reserves the right to open and inspect parcels sent by this method, and they will do so, especially if they have reason to be suspicious about a parcel. They will repackage and send on any packages that prove to have acceptable contents, but in other cases, they may contact you to ask for additional postage costs.
Remember, you will then be charged for the whole package at the standard rate, rather than the Media Mail rate.
What Are The Advantages Of Using Media Mail?
So, what are the pros of using Media Mail? The most obvious one is the cost saving, which is significant. The price for sending such heavy mail not via the Media Mail service can be significant, so if you need to send books, DVDs, medical binders, test materials, and other educational items, consider this service.
You can send up to 70 pounds very cheaply, often around half the cost of standard mail prices. This is really its only advantage over other mailing options, but it is significant enough to make the choice easy for many people sending mail.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Using Media Mail?
Of course, there are always disadvantages to a cheap service, and that is the case with Media Mail. It is not perfect. So, what are the cons? There are a few.
Firstly, the mail is quite slow in most cases. It can arrive as quickly as two business days, but may take up to eight business days, which is almost two weeks in real time. That is frustrating if someone needs something quickly, and you will have to look at other shipping options, or send the material digitally.
The second disadvantage is that the mail is vulnerable to being inspected, and this may mean that it gets sent on in substandard packaging. There have been many complaints about opened mail being very poorly repackaged.
In some cases, this has resulted in the loss of materials, because the packaging is no longer sufficiently strong and things get lost. This is something that USPS ought to look into, since being allowed to open the mail is a condition of their service. They should ensure that this does not decrease its chances of arriving safely.
Thirdly, the mail is not insured in any way, which is frustrating if you are sending valuable items such as textbooks. You cannot pay for insurance or receive any compensation if items are lost or damaged while in USPS’s hands.
If you need to send valuable items, you should choose a different mailing service and take out insurance. Sending high cost materials via the Media Mail service is not a good idea; it is designed to be cheap, not safe.
Can I Send Book Subscriptions Via Media Mail?
If you have bought a book subscription box for someone or you are making a DIY version, you might be wondering whether Media Mail is a viable shipping option. The answer is that yes, it should be fine!
You can ship any books besides graphic novels and comic books using this service, although if you are unsure, it is a good idea to check with USPS to make sure it is okay.
Bear in mind, however, that the box must not contain any advertising material or other items. You cannot ship, for example, a bookmark or pens alongside the books; it must only be books.
What Happens If I Include Advertising Materials?
You may be wondering what will happen if you do include some advertising material, either by mistake or deliberately. Unfortunately, USPS is extremely strict about this, so that the service cannot be used by businesses to distribute leaflets and adverts about their company.
Usually, you will be charged by the standard price for the whole parcel, as with other inappropriate items being included.
Can I Send Media Mail Priority Or Pay For Expedited Shipping?
No, you can’t. Media Mail does not have a faster option, because it is designed to be cheap. There are no ways to either upgrade or downgrade it, so you can’t change the price. Bulk buying is also unlikely to make any difference to the costs.
Can Businesses Access Cheaper Media Mail Options?
Yes, businesses can get commercial rates on sending Media Mail. They can still only ship up to 70 pounds per package, but they will pay slightly less on each weight band. It is only a matter of a few cents, however.
For example, in 2021, the 70 pounds commercial Media Mail option cost $46.44 (compared with $46.66 for retail prices). The one pound commercial Media Mail option is $2.97 (compared with $3.19 for retail).
This does not represent a very significant saving, but it can add up fast for businesses that are shipping large amounts of mail at once. It should also be noted that the commercial option does have the option of a 5-digit presort, which significantly drops the costs.
This means that the 70 pound option only costs $45.38 and the one pound option only costs $1.91. You can see how these would quickly save a business significant amounts of money.
Overall, the Media Mail rules are designed to ensure the shipping option is used as intended – for sending educational materials as cheaply as possible.
However, it is important to know that these rules are strictly enforced, and if you break them, you or the recipient may have to pay the full postage cost that the item would have incurred, even if part of it would be acceptable as Media Mail.
Shipping can be a headache, so it might be worth considering getting a US Global Mail Virtual Mailbox. This makes shipping so much easier for everyone, and can help you to take deliveries even when you are not at home. Virtual mailboxes make shipping a dream, and they are certainly a good option if you are struggling.