11 February 2008

Shipping and Packaging: the Basics

As a self-publisher, even with a distributor, you will be involved in shipping most of your product all around the country and the world. Here are some keys to making your shipping life easier.

Use USPS and PayPal.com Shipping Center
I use PayPal for all my shipping needs. I ship almost exclusively via the United States Postal Service (USPS). The USPS only allows packages up to 70 pounds, so if you ship heavier packages, you will need to split them. Most of my packages are less than 10 pounds, so I bought an 11 pound scale from OfficeDepot ($30). This saves me from going to the post office unless I'm dropping off stuff or shipping internationally.

I use PayPal.com because I already had a PayPal account and PayPal allows you to ship via all the USPS methods (including Media Mail) AND it make it easy to search for shipments AND it stores the Delivery Confirmation Number AND allows you to purchase insurance. PayPal is your own shipping center and unlike Stamps.com or Pitney-Bowes, PayPal doesn't charge you a monthly fee for using the service.

NOTE: USPS does not have point-to-point tracking. They can tell that the package was delivered, but not allow you to dependably locate the package. If you need point-to-point tracking, then I recommend UPS or Fed-Ex.

Non-USPS Shipping
If you want to ship via other shippers, then I suggest signing up for an account online. This will allow you to get cheaper pricing and give you access to everything you need for shipping (including local drop off points). When using Fed-Ex, you should know that all Fed-Ex locations do not have all shipping methods (like Fed-Ex Ground) available.

If you have to have tracking from the shipping point to the delivery point (for items like original art), then I suggest UPS or Fed-Ex.

Shipping to your distributor
When shipping to your distributor
- Count and recount the quantities
- Never ship more than they ordered. They (especially Diamond) will only pay you for what you ordered. Any extra will be sold with no benefit to you.
- Package your items well to protect against normal shipping wear and tear.
- Don't use excessive packing material. I suggest crumpled newspaper and not peanuts. Most cities have free local papers. Feel free to use them and save yourself some packaging costs.
- Include a PO/ Bill with the shipment. Make sure that your distributor knows who, when and what when it comes to payment. There should be no confusion.
- Include a list of contents. Always note what's in the box and the quantity.

Shipping to others
Most other shipping you will be doing is direct to the end user. My philosophy for this type of shipping, is to ship once. This means, I attempt to protect the product as well as possible. For this type of shipping I :
- Include a packing list that includes the shipping address and the inventory of each order.
- Bag and board the products. This offers an extra layer of protection to the product and generally protects against water exposure and most shipping damage.
- Use envelopes that are the correct size for your packages. I use 9"x 12" manila catalog envelopes for comics and magazine sized products. For larger products (like prints) I use larger 12.5" x 18.5" envelopes. I also use the Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes and boxes. I don't use boxes very often, so I don't keep boxes on hand. When I need a box, I visit Wal-mart and pick up one or ship via Priority Mail (I keep Priority Mail supplies on hand). Note that it's illegal to use an unused Priority Mail for anything other than Priority Mail shipping. I try to keep used Priority Mail boxes on hand.
- Secure the bag and boards to a stiff backer. I use 1 or 2 cardboard flats and tape the bag and board into a single unit and then secure that unit to the cardboard flat.
- Wrapping paper can be used. I use kraft wrapping paper to cover previously used box. It's extremely cheap and make for a nice looking package.
- Use peanuts to protect items in boxes. I keep a 18"x18"x18" box filled with peanuts that I get for free. My peanuts come from packages shipped to me and/or from a local company that receives weekly shipments in peanuts. If you find yourself shipping lots of boxes, ask around to local companies and secure their extra packaging peanuts.
- Keep your packaging costs low. My average packaging cost less than $1.

Shipping Original Art
As a former art collector, I am anally retentive about shipping original art. For original art, I:
- Bag and board the art. This will protect against water damage. Be sure to include a packing slip with addresses.
- Sandwiched between foam core. Foam core is light and rigid and yet flexible enough to protect most shipping damage. I get large 3 pack sheets for $10. These are large enough to be folded in half and still have about 2-3 inches of clearance all around the art. The bagged and boarded art is then taped down to the inside of the foam core. This secures the art to the middle of the package.
- I write my shipping address on the inside of the foam core (directly on the foam core).
-Tape all the edges of your foam core sandwich. The tape seals the package making it very water resistant.
- Write the address on the foam core.
- Secure the postage to the foam core.
- I ship via Priority Mail in the US with Delivery Confirmation. Generally even with packaging costs shipping to the US and Canada is less than $10-12.

Shipping Prints
Print shipping is closer to shipping books than shipping original art. I bag and board and then use a cardboard backer and an envelope. This protects the print from normal shipping wear and tear without being excessively expensive. I suggest shipping prints flat.

Shipping Internationally
There is no longer a cheap method to ship internationally. USPS which was the cheapest method (via Surface Mail) now only ships via Air Mail. Without international distribution, the cost of shipping items internationally can often exceed the costs of the item themselves. I recommend checking all shipping options and evaluating the cheapest method.

Shipping Via Priority and Express Mail
The USPS will deliver Priority/ Express Mail supplies direct to your door for free. I make sure that I have ample stock of the Flat Rate envelopes and boxes. This is a great way to reduce packaging costs for Priority/ Express Mail items. Remember that Priority and Express Mail material should only be used for the correct service.

- To avoid writing my address as a return address, I've purchased a self inking stamp. 2 self inking prints from www.iprint.com cost me $29 including shipping.
- Include your web site's URL on all material you send out. I also make a point of including a business card.

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