What is Media Mail, and what can be shipped with it?

Media Mail® is one of the least expensive ways to ship, but only specific items qualify as “media.” Learn what those items are and when and how you should ship via media mail.

What is Media Mail?

Media Mail® shipping is a special service offered by USPS® as a practical and very inexpensive way to ship educational materials. Deciphering what qualifies as educational materials, however, can be a bit tricky.

USPS defines educational materials as: Books, videotapes, DVDs, CDs, printed music and other sound recordings. It seems simple enough until you dig a little deeper and discover that items like blank cassettes, comic books and magazines with ads do not qualify for Media Mail shipping.

There are plenty of other rules and restrictions we’ll cover below. But suffice it to say, if you ship a lot of items that meet the Media Mail criteria and you’re not worried about longer delivery windows, it’s well worth your time to learn its peculiarities.

How long has Media Mail shipping been available?

Here’s a hint: Old timey player piano rolls are included in the USPS’ list of qualifying items.

Introduced originally in 1938 as “Book Rates,” what later became known as Media Mail was created to “encourage the flow of educational materials through the mail.” As technology and the way we share information has evolved, so has the list of items that qualify for Media Mail shipping. That’s why you can now ship that old collection of easy-listening cassette tapes for rock-bottom rates.

At the same time, those rock-bottom rates make it tempting for some sellers to skirt the rules a little (we see you vintage magazine sellers). You don’t want to do that. USPS takes its Media Mail shipping rules seriously as you’ll see below.

How often is Media Mail inspected?

In addition to its mission, rates and rules, Media Mail shipping is unique in one other way: it’s open to postal inspection. That means when you ship a package via Media Mail rates you are giving consent to have its contents inspected.

The USPS regularly conducts “spot checks” Media Mail shipments to ensure that packages contain only items that qualify for the rate. They are careful not to disclose how many packages are inspected or how often inspections take place. However, with many millions of Media Mail packages being shipped each year, it is reasonable to estimate that thousands of Media Mail packages are inspected each day.

If your packaged items are not on the approved list, you could be charged with mail fraud. Or, more likely, you or your customer will be backcharged for Priority Mail rates.If you don’t want your customers to receive a package stamped with a surprise POSTAGE DUE, pay attention to the following rules and restrictions before shipping your Media Mail package.

media mail packages cannot contain advertising or marketing of any type.

What items qualify for Media Mail shipping?

This list covers the basics, but when in doubt, check out the unabridged list on the USPS website for more details.

  • Books (at least 8 pages)
  • Sound recordings on vinyl records or cassette tapes, and video recordings such as CDs and DVDs
  • Play scripts and manuscripts for books, periodicals, and music
  • Printed music books and sheet music
  • Computer-readable media containing prerecorded information and guides or scripts prepared solely for use with such media
  • Sixteen millimeter or narrower width films
  • Printed objective test materials and their accessories
  • Printed educational reference charts
  • Loose-leaf pages and their binders consisting of medical information for distribution to doctors, hospitals, medical schools, and medical students

You cannot combine any of these items with non-qualifying items in the same package, including personal notes and cards. An extra enclosure is allowed only if it pertains strictly to the item you’re shipping, for example:

  • Bills and invoices
  • A brief note that introduces the media
  • Instructions for the media's use
  • Corrections to any printed information in the media

Finally, Media Mail packages cannot contain advertising or marketing of any type.

What can or can’t be shipped via Media Mail

The following items rank high in the “can BLANK be shipped via Media Mail” list:

  • Puzzles: No, USPS classifies puzzles and books of puzzles as entertainment (regardless of how you view them).
  • Video games: No, video games do not qualify and neither do traditional board games.
  • Vintage magazines: No, magazines contain advertising and even old timey ads aren’t allowed.
  • Cassette tapes: Yes, so long as they aren’t blank. Same goes for CDs and DVDs.
  • Flash cards: Yes, but school supplies like pencils and empty binders cannot.

Media Mail packaging rules

Media Mail packages can weigh up to 70 pounds and measure up to 108 inches in combined length and distance around the thickest part. If your package weighs under 8 ounces, it’s less expensive to send it First Class.

Media Mail packages must include both the sender’s and receiver’s full addresses.

You can protect your Media Mail shipments like other packages with packing peanuts, bubble wrap or other filling.

How much is Media Mail shipping?

The lure of Media Mail shipping is the price, which starts as low as $2.80 for a one- pound package. Plus, you can take advantage of many of the same services you get with more expensive shipping options, including free tracking and optional:

  • Collect on Delivery
  • Insured Mail
  • Delivery Confirmation
  • Signature Confirmation

The primary disadvantage is that your package will take longer to reach its destination. A couple of other things you might want to consider before shipping via Media Mail:

  • Less care is taken with the package. Your box of used paperbacks will arrive intact but wrap those player piano rolls carefully.
  • It’s a little confusing tracking what qualifies for Media Mail shipping. When in doubt, contact your local post office.
  • Can you send international items using media mail?

    No, you can’t use Media Mail to ship to other countries. It is strictly a domestic service, so it can only be used within the 50 states. Media Mail is intended to facilitate the distribution of educational materials throughout the United States; that’s why Media Mail rates are so cheap. In order to qualify for Media Mail rates, the recipient’s address must include a ZIP Code.

    How fast is media mail?

    Media Mail is relatively slow compared to other mail services. It can take as much as eight days for a Media Mail package to be delivered.

    What is the maximum weight limit for media mail?

    When shipping materials via Media Mail, it is important to comply with the size and weight limits. The maximum package weight that the USPS will accept for Media Mail shipments is 70 pounds. However, you may be charged extra for some items, such as a package of printed matter weighing more than 25 pounds.

    Who can use media mail?

    Anyone can use Media Mail, as long as both the package and its contents comply with Media Mail rules. For example, if you were to self-publish a book and ship 50 copies to a bookstore, your package would qualify for Media Mail rates, even if you enclose an invoice and the inside cover of your book contains some brief promotional information about other books you have written. You could even use Media Mail to send a single book or CD recording to a friend, as long as you’re not enclosing anything else that would violate the rules.

    When should I ship with UPS or FedEx instead of media mail?

    While Media Mail offers the advantage of very low rates, the service does have disadvantages that may rule it out for certain shipments. When it’s important that your package be delivered quickly, you should definitely choose a different shipping option. If you need overnight delivery, either FedEx or UPS would be a better choice. If your content includes any sort of advertising, it will not qualify for Media Mail rates. For example if an educational tour company wanted to ship magazines promoting its tours to a travel agent, that would be a violation of Media Mail rules prohibiting advertising.

    Items such as puzzles or computer games do not qualify for Media Mail rates, even if their content is primarily educational

    Media Mail packages tend to get rough treatment, so it may not be the best choice for shipping fragile or highly valuable items, such as antique books or wax cylinder recordings.

    Media Mail shipping with PitneyShip

    You can buy postage and print shipping labels for your Media Mail packages at home with PitneyShip. With subscriptions starting at $4.99 a month, PitneyShip offers members access to services from all the major carriers, often at discounted prices.

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