Ah, the best way to ship comics.
It’s an age old question. I’ve seen it asked over and over from fine folks on numerous comic related forums when they want to ship their books to new homes. Over the years I’ve bought and sold many comics online. In that time I’ve seen a range of good, great, and absolutely terrifying ways to ship comic books. So here’s a few tips based on my personal experiences. In this article I’m going to cover 4 main subjects:
- Primary Shipping Options
- Packaging Recommendations
- Should you charge for Shipping?
- Why Does it Matter? (AKA, Where I philosophize like the ancient Greeks)
First a few qualifiers:
- These recommendations are based solely on shipments within the United States.
- These recommendations are for current sized, non-slabbed comics.
- I’m not what I would consider a volume online buyer/seller of comic books. This is not a business for me, but I do take each transaction seriously.
- Your experiences may differ. Do what’s right for your specific needs.
And now a few questions that you must ask as the best option may depend on a number of variables:
- How many comics are you shipping? (Mailer or box?)
- How far are they shipping? (Carrier service?)
- What is their value? (To insure or not to insure?)
- How frequently do you ship? (Bulk packaging buys?)
First let’s look at actual shipping options. The United States Post Office offers many options, and you can also look at UPS or FedEx. If you are selling via eBay, they do offer discounted shipping rates with all three carriers. Those discounts can help offset the various seller and Paypal fees incurred by eBay transactions. NOTE: Shipping quotes mentioned are based on 2018 USPS rates.
- My preference for most of my shipments is to use USPS Priority Mail. It’s fast and includes a tracking number along with $50 of insurance. Additional insurance is reasonably priced. Priority Mail starts at less than $7, and unless you’re shipping quantities greater than 20 or so books at once, it tops out at around $24. There are other cost advantages I’ll get to later. Oh, and did I mention it’s fast? 1-3 days to just about anywhere in the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
- USPS First Class mail is an option IF the total shipment weighs less than 13 ounces. Considering that typical bagged and boarded modern comics weigh in at 2 1/2 to 3oz, with packaging you are looking at a max of probably three books. Look for shipping costs to be between $4-$6 depending on weight. Time is typically 1-4 days depending on distance. Tracking is included, but insurance is extra.
- There are some who use and recommend USPS Media Mail to ship comics, mainly because it’s cheap. A shipment of say 10 well packaged books will probably cost around $4 versus upwards of $17 via Priority Mail. I get it, that’s a lot of money saved, but here are the major caveats: First off, technically you cannot send comic books via Media Mail because they contain ads. (Media Mail Regulation 4.1-a) Second, it can take a long time to arrive. Media Mail shipments are pretty much the lowest priorty packages with the USPS. Look for shipment to take upwards of 1 to 2 weeks to arrive. Finally, the USPS can open and inspect Media Mail packages to confirm their eligibility. (Media Mail Regulation 2.2) This could result in the package being returned to you. Worst case, the inspection could damage the comics you are sending. For me, the cost savings are not worth the potential hassles and headaches.
- UPS and FedEx are going to be rather similar in cost and time. I’ve only really considered them for larger shipments of 10+ books where charges are going to start in the $14 neighborhood and take 1-5 days. More often than not, USPS Priority Mail beats them in both cost and time, but it doesn’t hurt to run an online quote. I’m in Sountern California, and for some strange reason shipments to certain regions in the Midwest are cheaper when I use FedEx.
- Here is the latest USPS price list and rate charts.
- So many mailing zones! Endicia.com has created a pretty slick USPS zone map generator so you can figure what zone a location might fall into and what the shipping cost price range will be.
Let’s Talk Packaging
Regardless of the value of the comics I’m shipping I want to make sure that what I ship arrives in exactly the same condition I sent it in. There’s nothing worse than excitely heading to your mailbox only to find the “package” containing those last two books to fill a run was easily bent in half to fit in your mailbox. Sorry, writing FRAGILE or DO NOT BEND on the envelope just won’t cut it. Equally disappointing is discovering your mailbox has a leak. You find the once vibrant colors have been reduced to various shades of water-logged brown. Why? Because those books were just tossed naked into a thin manila envelope.
So how to avoid these pitfalls that lead to angry buyers and negative reviews?
- Bag and Board all your books before shipping. The bags help keep the elements away from the books and the boards help to stiffen the package.
- When possible I will put the books in a sealed plastic bag before putting them in the box/envelope. Comic bags do not fully seal. This offers another layer of protection to the comics in case of moisture damage to the outer packaging.
- Sandwich the books between two pieces of cardboard or chipboard. Since I’ve wrapped the comics in plastic I can tape the bundle to the cardboard. This does two things: It keeps the books from sliding around, and more importantly it makes for a much stiffer product. Again, you don’t want these comics to bend during transit.
- Whenever possible I will use a box. I use these great adjustable boxes on Amazon that work for one book (with a couple pieces of filler chipboard) or all the way up to 20 books. You have to buy 50 at a time though, which could be cost prohibitive when not mailing very often.
- If you end up using envelopes, it is highly recommended that you use something more akin to a flat mailer like these on Amazon. These are stiffer and help decrease the chance of bending. I recommend an option that is in the 12″ x 9” size range which will usually fit up to 7 books. You will still want to sandwich the comics between cardboard or chipboard. Like the boxes above, you will likely need to buy these in larger quantities so they could be initially expensive. Using an easily damaged basic manila envelope, while cheaper, does not offer nearly as much protection.
- Buying your own packaging can be expensive, around $1+ per when buying small bundles, but there is a cheaper option. The USPS makes high quality flat-rate envelopes and boxes available to consumers, for FREE! Yes, free quality packaging! There is a catch though. If you use a USPS flat-rate package you must use USPS Priority Mail. The flat-rate envelope is 12” x 9” and costs $6.70 to ship. Like the mailers above, figure you can ship up to 7 or 8 books including reinforcing cardboard. The flat-rate medium box (11” x 8” x 5” version) will easily fit upwards of 30 books and cost only $13.65 to ship. Your local post office may have these in stock, or you can order them for FREE from USPS.com.
- You don’t want the comics to move around in transit. Take up any extra space in boxes with filler items. Bubble wrap, kraft paper, newspaper, etc. can all work.
- In my experience, I end up spending $1-$2 per shipment in packaging materials depending on the options I’ve chosen.
- Finally, including a short, hand-written note of appreciation is huge. Even the strongest introvert likes to know that there are other humans out there willing to take the time to say thank you. (I know, I am one.)
- In doing further research for this article I found this intriguing box alternative from Gemini Comic Supply. Their construction suggests the need to be placed in another mailer or box. Even so, they look like they would offer darn good protection for not a lot of money.
So What Should You Charge?
This is not an article about how to price items. Yet factoring packaging, shipping, and your time into the determination of price is a part of answering the original question of what is the best way to ship comics.
When I’m listing a book, I take into account the possible packaging and shipping expenses along with the various seller/paypal fees. Since this is not a business my primary focus is not necessarily on making a profit, but I certainly don’t want to lose money. Shipping is not free. Packaging is not free. My time is not free. The selling platform and Paypal are going to take their pound of flesh. As a seller it’s my job to make sure I still get something out of the transaction besides one less book in my collection.
So I do my research and make sure its clear what the buyer is paying for. It’s ok to charge shipping. Collectors understand the value in properly protected and shipped products. Whatever you do, don’t gouge on shipping. If you know it will only cost $5 to ship, don’t charge $10. Make money on the product, not the shipping.
A quick example of why you should charge for shipping…
If I sell a book for $10 on eBay with free shipping I’m not going to make a dime. eBay will take their 9% and Paypal will take their 3+%. That leaves me with with approximately $8.50 to cover packaging ($1), shipping ($5), and labor costs (say 30 minutes for the life of the listing x $15/hr = $7.50). Somewhere in there I may decide to go with cheaper packaging or slower shipping so I can extract a little bit for my time. (You could say that this is also an example of why eBay doesn’t pay)
On the other hand…
I sell that same book for $10, but charge the $5 for shipping (I already know that’s how much it will cost). PayPal and eBay will still take their cut, but I’m now left with approximately $13 to cover the same exact costs. The buyer still gets high value which will be reinforced by the thoughtful packaging, which should result in great feedback. Plus I’m not losing my shirt on the transaction.
Which all leads to the final question…
Why Go Through All This Trouble?
As stated earlier, this is not a business for me, yet I do take each transaction seriously. I view each transaction as a contract of trust between two parties. A buyer expects that their purchase will be what they ordered. As a seller it’s my job to make sure that what I’m selling meets those expectations.
The moment a buyer makes a purchase, regardless of price, those items have strong intrinsic value and importance. As a seller, an item is only as valuable as the price they recieve for it. As a buyer, the value of an item, even if the price is free, may be priceless. When shipping, a seller needs to treat those items as having that intrinsic value. We don’t know why they bought it, but the purchase is important at that moment and needs to be treated as such.
Just tossing naked comics into a manila envelope tells a buyer that what they just bought has little value. That they weren’t worth the effort to take care of. You have just devalued the purchase to the buyer. They may feel like they paid too much or were ripped off. They might even think that the seller does not care for the buyer. Even when the books arrive just fine there will still be a loss of trust.
Taking the time to package those comics nicely and putting care into your handling of them will tell the buyer that you understand there is value in what they bought. That it means something to them. They may never buy from you again, but they will appreciate that you cared enough to care about their experience.
I hope you found this helpful.