What Is USPS Media Mail and What Can You Ship With It?

USPS Media Mail Many people think that First-Class Mail is the cheapest shipping service provided by the USPS, but it is not quite true. Media Mail is generally cheaper, but there is a catch: just like its name suggests, Media Mail can by used only to ship certain types of media. Let’s figure out what items are eligible for Media Mail and how to mail them correctly.

Media Mail, formerly known as Book Rate, was conceived as a cost-effective way to ship media and educational materials. According to the United States Postal Service (USPS) guidelines, the following types of media are eligible for Media Mail and can be sent at Media Mail rates:

  • Books that are no less than 8 pages long.
  • Sound and video recordings, such as CDs and DVDs.
  • Manuscripts (for books, periodicals and music) and play scripts.
  • Computer-readable media that contains prerecorded information.
  • 16 mm or narrower width films.
  • Printed music, educational reference charts, and objective test materials.
  • Loose-leaf pages with medical information and their binders.

You are also allowed to include bills and invoices, instructions for the use of the media, and documents describing the contents of the package or outlining corrections to the printed media.

Please keep in mind that video games, puzzles, school supplies like empty binders, computer software, blank media (CDs, DVDs, audio or video tapes), digital drives, and computer drives do not qualify as Media Mail. You’re also not allowed to ship non-media items in the same package as media materials.

Another thing you should know about Media Mail is that packages sent as Media Mail may not contain advertising. The only exceptions are incidental announcements of other books in books and incidental announcements of other sound recordings in sound recordings. Because of this, comic books normally cannot be sent as Media Mail since ads are a common feature in American comics. However, graphic novels typically do not contain ads for anything other than other graphic novels so they may be eligible for Media Mail.

But how will the USPS know whether your Media Mail package contains advertising or not? The thing is, Media Mail packages are subject to employee inspection. Of course, not every Media Mail shipment is inspected, but USPS employees absolutely have the right to open your package during a random spot check or if they suspect that its contents may not be shipped at Media Mail rates.

If one or more items in your package are deemed ineligible for Media Mail, the shipment may be returned to you, or you or the recipient will be required to pay additional postage because USPS will reclassify your shipment as another service, for example, Priority Mail. You may even be charged with mail fraud, so we recommend that you don’t try to deceive the USPS just to save a couple of bucks on postage.

How do you ship a Media Mail package? You can ship media in an envelope or a box. The maximum envelope dimensions are 12×15 inches; besides, your envelope must be no more than ¾ inches thick. The maximum package dimensions are 180 inches combined length and girth; in addition, your box cannot weigh more than 70 lbs.

Envelopes and boxes that meet these criteria can be purchased at most USPS locations or at the Postal Store at usps.com. Once you’ve got an envelope or box of the right size, pack the items as you would normally do with any kind of shipment. We recommend that you wrap each item individually for better protection and use enough cushioning.

You can pay postage for your Media Mail package at a post office or print a shipping label yourself using USPS Click-n-Ship or a third-party shipping label generator like PostageMaker, affix it to the package, and drop your shipment off at the nearest USPS location.

Keep in mind that Media Mail includes tracking but does not include insurance coverage unless you purchase it separately. Another drawback of Media Mail is that it takes a bit longer to deliver compared even to First-Class Mail (2–8 business days and even longer during peak seasons). Finally, Media Mail is strictly a domestic service, so you cannot use it to ship educational materials to another country.

The bottom line is, using Media Mail can be a great way to save on shipping certain items, but it is not without its drawbacks: this service has many restrictions regarding the contents of shipments (and figuring out whether the items you want to ship qualify for Media Mail rates can be a little bit tricky), it takes longer to deliver, it cannot be used to ship internationally, and there is no free coverage. So, like with any other shipping service, you should weigh all pros and cons before making your choice.