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How to Pack and Ship Books Sold Online

Updated on April 16, 2012
Finished package
Finished package

If you are selling books online (either new or used) or just occasionally shipping books to relatives or friends, packing them carefully will prevent damage in transit. If you are selling books it is doubly important to get them there in the shape that you promised. If you are selling fairly low price (e.g., $3 to $5) used books, it is also important to pack and ship as cheaply as possible. There are, of course, many possible packaging materials, but this hub will focus on one general approach that I have found to be efficient, low cost, and adaptable. It has also generated many “well-packed” feedback remarks. This hub will discuss materials needed, steps for packaging small paperbacks and hardcover books, packaging modifications for larger paperbacks and hardcover books, and finally shipping options including printing postage/shipping labels. Packaging materials are readily available from office supply stores, but it is also good to save anything reusable that you receive.

Tools and materials needed

  • Clear packaging tape
  • Heavy-duty brown manila envelopes (9 x 12 inches)
  • Stiff cardboard
  • Bubble wrap
  • Brown Kraft paper or boxes for larger books.
  • Tape dispenser
  • Utility knife
  • Scissors
  • Book(s)

Purchase supplies

Purchase any needed basic supplies in appropriate quantities. Suggested quantities for starting are a 12 inch by 25 foot roll of bubble wrap (small, 3/16 inch high bubbles), and a box of 100 non padded 9 x 12 inch manila envelopes (get the heavier “28-lb” paper ones). The 9 x 12 envelopes work for most paperbacks and small to medium size hard cover books. For larger books, you may want to purchase a few larger 12.5 x 15 inch manila envelopes as well or a small roll of brown Kraft paper (30 inches wide x 40 feet long). If you do not already have packaging tape and a dispenser, purchase a few rolls of 1.89 inch (or 2 inch) clear packaging tape (the “economy” store brand works fine) and a handheld tape dispenser, Be sure to get clear packaging tape so you can tape address labels on with it. You will also need some discarded stiff cardboard (from sturdy cardboard boxes you have received or ask at a home improvement or furniture store, etc.)

Starting point
Starting point

Packaging Step 1

For paperback books, the first step is to cut a piece of cardboard the size of the book, then cut a piece of bubble wrap large enough to enclose both. The cardboard is to add a little more stiffness to the package. Small hardcover books are usually stiff enough without the cardboard and can just be wrapped with the bubble wrap.

Bubble wrapped
Bubble wrapped

Packaging Step 2

Wrap the cardboard and the book tightly with bubble wrap, and tape. Note that the fold over of the bubble wrap at the ends provides good corner protection for the book.

Partially done
Partially done

Packaging Step 3

Then put the materials in an envelope and tightly fold over and tape the long side of the envelope. Cut off any excess length. The closing of the open end is a little easier if you cut the clasp side of the envelope back a bit more as shown.

Taping done
Taping done

Packaging Step 4

Close and tape the open end as shown. Also add tape as needed to the other end to be sure it does not get ripped open in transit. The finished package, ready for postage, is shown above by the introduction.

Large thin paperback
Large thin paperback

Large paperback packaging modification

The procedure described above is sufficient protection for common paperback sizes and small hardcover books. If you have a larger paperback that is more flexible, you may need a little more stiffness. Cut the cardboard large enough to fold it completely around 3 sides of the book as shown. The cardboard piece must be sized to cover front and back cover and a narrower strip to cover the edge of the book. To fold the cardboard at right angles as shown, mark the fold lines and then with a utility knife, cut just through the surface of the cardboard along those lines. Bend the cardboard over a sharp edged table or door to get a clean fold. Insert the book so that only the spine is exposed. It is helpful to lightly tape the open side of the cardboard folder to keep it closed around the book during the next steps. Protect the book’s spine from the tape with a scrap of paper. Proceed with bubble wrap and envelope as described above. Use a larger envelope or Kraft paper if necessary.

Large hardcover books

Large hardcover books can be packaged in larger envelopes or wrapped in brown Kraft paper using the same techniques described above. Particularly large or expensive books may need to be packed in boxes and well padded. The cardboard folding process described in step 6 can be extended to make a custom size box if necessary. If you make such a box, tape all folds to reinforce them.

Shipping

Shipping by Unites States Postal Service (USPS) media mail will usually be the cheapest alternative. However, packages weighing 6 ounces or less can be shipped cheaper and faster at the first class parcel rate. You can use stamps for postage or a printed postage/shipping label. If you use stamps, the package will have to be handed to a clerk at the post office counter for security reasons if it weighs over 13 ounces(see 13 oz rule). Lighter packages can be put in the post office package drop. Also, if you use stamps be sure to mark the package “Media Mail” somewhat like the picture by the introduction. If you use a prepaid postage label it is okay to use the package drop even for parcels heavier than 13 ounces because there is a record of who bought the postage.

Use the USPS Postage Price Calculator to calculate the required postage for your package. Simply enter the origin and destination zip codes, check “package”, and enter the package weight on the first page and click on “continue”. On the second page click on “other options” to see first class and media mail rates. First class parcels are priced per ounce up to 13 ounces maximum. Media mail is priced in 1 pound increments. For example, packages up to 1 pound cost $2.47, over 1 pound up to 2 pounds costs 2.89. etc. For downloadable tables of USPS prices in “.xls” or “.csv" formats see Tables of first class parcel and media mail prices. There are restrictions on what can be mailed via media mail, but books and CDs and DVDs are eligible. See Media Mail Prices and Eligibility for more details.

PayPal provides a convenient tool to print a postage/shipping label from your computer if you have a PayPal account.. Guide to Printing PayPal Postage Labels provides a good explanation of this tool and Ship Now takes you to the appropriate PayPal page (by way of your PayPal login page). You pay only the actual postage charges plus a “delivery confirmation” fee of $.19 (this is less than the delivery confirmation fee at the post office). The postage labels can be printed on ordinary printer paper, cut out (you can cut off the eBay and Pay Pal promotional text at the top and bottom of the label), and then pasted or taped onto your package. If you wish to print many of these labels, however, you will probably also want to buy a fairly accurate scale to weigh your packages. With respect to other alternatives, the USPS “Click-N-Ship” tool does not provide a media mail option and their automated postal centers (APC) also do not give you an option for media mail. There are other companies that provide online postage/shipping label generation, but I believe that most of them charge a monthly fee.



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