If you’re an educator, a publisher, or a seller of certain educational goods, you can find yourself shipping items (or sets of items) that are rather heavy.
In fact, when it comes to the United States Postal Service, in many cases, the heavier an item, the more expensive it is to ship.
But what if your shipping qualifies for Media Mail? What is USPS Media Mail? If you’d like to find out more, keep reading!
What Is USPS Media Mail In 2023?
Media Mail is a mail class offered by the United States Postal Service that is limited to educational media items, including books, videotapes, DVDs and CDs, cassettes, and similar items in 2023. Items cannot contain advertisements, and by using Media Mail, customers are consenting to USPS package searches. Note that Media Mail does not factor Zones into pricing.
To learn more about how Media Mail works, including what qualifies, how much it costs, how pricing works, and much more, keep reading below for all you need to know!
What Qualifies as Media Mail at USPS?
USPS takes fraud seriously and mailing something that doesn’t actually count as Media Mail through the shipping class technically qualifies as such.
So, what can you ship when you use Media Mail USPS?
Well, the Domestic Mail manual gets very specific about which types of educational materials are allowed. Here are some of the major items:
- Books of at least eight printed pages that contain no advertising other than “incidental announcements of books” (like those pages in the back that announce the author’s next work)
- 16mm film (or narrower)
- Printed music, bound or in sheet form
- Printed test materials
- Sound recordings, including video recordings and player piano rolls (yes, these types of player piano rolls)
- Playscripts and manuscripts for books, magazines, or music
- Educational charts
- Binders and loose-leaf papers that go inside of binders that contain medical information and can be used by doctors and students, schools and hospitals
- “Computer-readable media” with pre-recorded content on them (no blank DVRs, for example)
You can check out the full list with further explanations here.
This USPS About page also notes that comic books don’t count as Media Mail, nor do blank cassettes or magazines that contain ads.
A note on the prohibition of advertising going through Media Mail: If a book contains more than an incidental announcement of other books, that’s not going to qualify.
So, advertisements for anything – clothing, cars, services, etc. – other than a simple announcement that another book will be released at some point, make a book ineligible.
Can You Ship Anything Media Mail?
You cannot ship just anything with USPS Media Mail – items must be educational materials that do not contain advertising.
In fact, you can see this page for an accessible list of educational media items that qualify. This list includes the following:
- Sound and video recordings
- Printed music
- Computer-readable media
- 16mm or fewer films
- Test materials
- Charts and binders with medical information
Blank forms of media – cassettes, thumb drives, DVDs, etc. – are not eligible, nor are any items containing advertisements.
Does USPS Actually Check Media Mail?
These are difficult times for the Postal Service, with budget issues and staffing problems.
Thus, I think if Postal employees were to not check any/all packages as stringently, this would be the instance.
However, that said, because of the very limited scope of materials allowed to be sent via Media Mail, if USPS is going to check any mail class, I’d think this one would be right up there.
Remember, items shipped by Media Mail have a label that proclaims the shipping class front and center.
So, what happens if you tried to sneak something non-eligible through Media Mail?
Well, according to USPS, if your package gets inspected and is found to contain items that are not allowed, the penalties aren’t too serious.
The package could simply be reassessed at a different, eligible mail class and then the correct price might be billed to the recipient.
Or, USPS might reach out to the sender and let them know they have extra postage due.
Indeed, unlike when someone sends actually illegal items in the mail (alcohol, drugs, firearms, etc.), the Postal Service just wants to get the money you owe.
Also: Say you’re an aunt or uncle sending books to your niece with Media Mail. Unfortunately, you cannot also slip a toy into the box for shipping, just because the books qualify.
Why Is Media Mail Cheaper?
Media Mail’s cheaper postage can be traced back to the mail class’s inception in 1938.
At the time, the Postal Service created the mail class to make it cheaper to ship books, therefore making the “flow of educational materials” more accessible.
Today, the Media Mail shipping class carries on that legacy, having now expanded to include 20th and 21st-century technology.
As well, it’s still very affordable (but note that it’s also fairly slow, with a window of 2-8 business days).
As I mentioned, Media Mail doesn’t factor Zones into its pricing, as Priority Mail does.
Whatever price correlates to your items’ weight is the flat fee, no matter how far away in the domestic U.S. For example, a one-pound book costs only $3.19.
As with all USPS shipping, the weight limit maxes out at 70 lbs. At 70 lbs. (that’s a fair amount of books!) it costs just $44.43 to ship.
(You can find the full price chart here.)
Can You Use Any Box for Media Mail?
You can use just about any box to send your Media Mail shipment, provided it’s not a box for a different mail class (e.g., Priority Mail Flat Rate).
However, make sure to choose a box in excellent condition, and if there are any former shipping labels, scrape them off or mark them over.
To access best practices for reusing a box, check out this helpful page.
Media Mail is a very affordable shipping class for the mailing of educational materials, including books, recordings, music, and more.
Media Mail cannot contain any advertising content, and use of the mail class assumes consent for the USPS to open and search the package, to ensure shipping eligibility of the contents.