Shipping books? Here’s your Ultimate Book Packaging Guide.

Deborah Lill Mar 3, 2016 Packaging Geekery

You’ve all seen it. That book trader that has a good old whinge on the forums about unreasonable customers leaving them negative feedback or demanding a refund because the book they’ve bought hasn’t arrived via the mail in pristine condition. That trader is clueless as to why their website, eBay or Amazon account is littered with poor feedback, and why their business is failing to pick up.

Make sure that trader isn’t you!

Book packaging shouldn’t be a mission in DIY craftsmanship or a lesson in sliced-thumbs. Nor should it be an opportuntiy for your competitors to steal what is actually an easy win from underneath you. Sometimes when seeking guidance on how to do something, Google and other search engines can be your friend. Not in this case. When searching online for ‘book packaging tips’, ‘book packaging guide’ or ‘how to package books’ / ‘how to ship books’, the results are less than brilliant.  Here are some of the (not sure why?) top-ranking results on how to package books in the mail:

As you can see advice on how to package books in the mail is varied, both in actual advice and quality of advice.  It’s also mostly completely wrong.  The best way to look at how to mail books profitably and efficiently is to look at businesses that have built their success on mailing books.  Businesses like Amazon.  What kind of packaging do they use to mail books every second of every day all year? WHY do they use the methods they do?

First of all, let’s look at the key challenges that books face when being sent through the mail:

book-cond_cover-damageImpacts:

Whether it’s a hardback, a paperback, a textbook, a comic book, or a journal – all publications of any type are vulnerable to being knocked about in the mail.  Whether it’s a mailing system automated ‘runner belt’, or an overzealous postman, books can and do take impact damage.  This impact damage can be caused by something knocking into or onto the package containing the book, or it can be an impact inside the packaging itself, where the book has gained momentum and crashed against the packaging meant to protect it. For rare, fragile, or hardback books, this is particularly important.  They often feature cover ‘overhangs’ with delicate paper-sleeves and carefully crafted bindings. One knock, one corner crush, one crease, can render the value of these books both monetarily and perceptually lessened.

Gouges & Cuts:

Whilst technically an impact, gouges and cuts deserve their own mention, because they require specific catering for when deciding on what type of packaging to use.  No book trader or dealer wants a book to turn up to a clients door with a big gouge in the cover or worse, sections ripped or cut off. So you need to protect against this.

book liquid damagedLiquids:

Oh the horror! Whether it’s grease, water, a spilt drink or anything else liquid – books, comics and other printed media do not play well with liquids of any form. So your packaging options need to consider the ‘what if’ regarding spillages near your product. (Yes, you’re right – spillages in the post logistics chain shouldn’t be a concern for you, but it all depends on how far you want to protect your products.)

Security:

Some books are worth a lot of money. Some are simply valuable to people for other reasons. Either way, the greater the perceived value of a book, the more at risk it is to being pilfered.  Making sure that the packaging is not easily accessible (or the contents viewable) to ‘chancers’ doing some light-fingered shopping, is a crucial point.

Ease of Opening:

If your customer needs a PHD or a chainsaw to open your book packaging, then there is a chance that you have gone a little too far in how you have packaged your book. Yes, protect it – but at the end of the day the customer needs to be able to get into the packaging without risking damaging the contents by doing so.

Sustainability:

Who cares about the environment these days? Nobody right? Wrong actually. Sustainabaility of packaging is a huge issue – and your greener more aware customers (they’re book readers!) will most likely prefer you to be using recyclable or non-landfil-destined packaging. Sustainability and plastic bubble-mailers just don’t go together, no matter what the manufacturers or your packaging dealers say.

Postal Costs:

Finally, a consideration that is NOT all about what your customers wants! Simply put, the more packaging you use, the heavier and bigger your packaged book is going to be. So instead of just piling more packaging on, you need to be smarter about the design of the packaging you use, and how much of it you use. Many countries operate volumetric costing for posting things – including both weight and size. Some just go by weight (Books can be really heavy!). For example, in the UK the Royal Mail uses volumetric cost assessments, and operates a volumetric tariff system. If you slip into a higher volumetric tariff because your packaging is either too big or too heavy, you’re paying for a postal tariff that you shouldn’t be. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to keep that all important margin on your book sales, or to reduce your price in the market – both effective tactics for succeeding!

Parcel AppearanceAppearance:

When packages turn up looking like they have crossed a battlefield, were put together by the wombles from loose cardboard in a bin, or like you just don’t care about the customers ‘unboxing experience’; then Houston, we have a problem. As soon as your package enters your customers world, they’re judging you. If it looks shoddy, or badly thought out, then they will not be pleased.  The more you value your initial impression to the customer, the more they will think “WOW!”.

You can bet your bottom dollar that Amazon will have thought of all of the above when mailing books to customers. You don’t get to be a huge, world-beating organisation like Amazon unless you focus on things like book packaging and protecting your products during transit. If you have ever received a book or other publication that has been fulfilled by Amazon, then you’ll know that they use two key types of packaging for books and printed media:

  1. Envelopes
  2. Bookwraps

Why do they do this? Companies like Amazon know that well made packaging that is specifically designed to cater for the crucial factors listed above is far better for protecting books in transit, and is also more cost-effective and efficient for the business. Spending time, money and energy cutting up pieces of cardboard, and taping or stapling it together with reams of plastic sheeting and bubblemailers just does not work. It’s a false economy – especially if you’re unnecessarily paying higher rate postage costs. If you want to be a back-room homestead book trader, then continue making or assembling your own packaging. If you are serious about your business, take a tip from organisations like Amazon – use ready-made book packaging to ship your books, comics, journals, textbooks, and anything else containing the all important written word.

As you’ll see if you visit our product pages, our envelopes and bookwraps (and also our flatpacks) are specially designed to cater for most of the above list – with the obvious exception being liquid resistance – which is why it is worth sealing more expensive or rare items inside a plastic waterproof envelope before being transit-packed.

Good luck in your Book Packaging endeavours! I hope this guide has been helpful to you in making better book packaging and shipping decisions.

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About Deborah Lill

Deb is a Digital Marketing Executive for Lil Packaging, and an actual member of the Lill family!