what is media mail: shipping guide

USPS Media Mail: The Ultimate Information & Shipping Guide

Postal services in the United States are a great way to send various types of goods across the country. However, when it comes to sending media related items, Media Mail may be the most cost effective option for you. 

Media Mail is an affordable shipping method offered by USPS that is ideal for shipping books, CDs, DVDs, videotapes and similar types of educational media items. Media Mail shipments typically arrive between 2 – 8 days, with an average of 4 days, depending on the size of the consignment and the delivery location.

In this guide, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Media Mail shipping method, its related costs, lead times, benefits and everything else there is to it. Please find below the table of contents:

  1. What is Media Mail
  2. How to Ship Media Mail
  3. What Items Can You Ship 
  4. Insurance and Inspections
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

What is Media Mail?

The Postal Service Act of 1792 was signed into law by President George Washington and in the early days was used to mostly facilitate newspaper circulation. Not long after, postal services covered personal mail and other items throughout the United States. 

In order to create a convenient and affordable way to mail books, the United States Postal Service (USPS) started offering Media Mail in 1938. It’s main purpose was to facilitate the dissemination of educational material through the country. 

As the technological landscape of media changed over the years, Media Mail’s categories were expanded to include films, posters and other educational material. 

Today, Media Mail has become an affordable shipping method to send books, and various other media-related materials across the United States. This service is exclusively offered by USPS, with restrictions to certain media categories. 

Benefits and Limitations of Media Mail

In terms of affordability and convenience, Media Mail is an ideal shipping method, if your items qualify as educational material. USPS also offer free package tracking with multiple status updates. Moreover the entire process of shipping a Media Mail parcel is straightforward and simple. 

The main limitations of Media Mail are the delivery times and lack of insurance. While a 2 – 8 day delivery lead time is acceptable to most people, it is equivalent to standard shipping, whereby priority shipping only takes 1 – 3 days on average. 

Additionally, shipping via Media Mail is only applicable to certain types of items and shipments can also be inspected for compliance purposes. Below is a summary of the pros and cons of shipping with Media Mail.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Free tracking
  • Status updates
  • Convenient process

Cons:

  • Longer deliveries
  • No insurance options
  • Educational items only
  • Prone to inspections

How Much Does it Cost to Ship Media Mail?

Media Mail rates start at $2.89 for the first pound and increase by $0.56 for every pound shipped thereafter. You may refer to the table below or visit the Media Mail price list.

Weight Fee ($)WeightFee ($)WeightFee ($)
12.892516.334829.21
23.452616.894929.77
34.012717.455030.33
44.572818.015130.89
55.132918.575231.45
65.693019.135332.01
76.253119.695432.57
86.813220.255533.13
97.373320.815633.69
107.933421.375734.25
118.493521.935834.81
129.053622.495935.37
139.613723.056035.93
1410.173823.616136.49
1510.733924.176237.05
1611.294024.736337.61
1711.854125.296438.17
1812.414225.856538.73
1912.974326.416639.29
2013.534426.976739.85
2114.094527.536840.41
2214.654628.096940.97
2315.214728.657041.53
2415.77
*Weight indicated in the table are in pounds (lbs) and prices in United States Dollars. 

Media Mail rates are based on weight. Any fraction thereof will be rounded up to the nearest pound. For example, a stack of books weighing 7 lbs shipped via Media mail, equates to a total cost of $6.25. 

Example of Cost breakdown:
$2.89 for the first pound + $3.36 ($0.56 per subsequent pound x 6) = $6.25

How to Ship Media Mail

When it comes to shipping Media Mail, there are a few things you’ll need to take care of before sending your package. You may follow the below shipping guide

shipping media mail

At Home: 

  1. Check if your items qualify. The following link will bring you to the guide on what items can be shipped via Media Mail
  2. Pack your item based on the allowable weight and dimensions. You can either obtain Media Mail packages and labels from the post office, or you can print them online from places like eBay and PayPal. Unfortunately, Media Mail packages cannot be purchased on the USPS online store.
  3. USPS requires all Media Mail packages to indicate a delivery address and the sender’s return address. Make sure that these are indicated on the envelope or package of your shipment. 

At the Post Office:

  1. Go to your nearest USPS post office. Simply place your zip code in here to find the nearest USPS post office near you. Have a USPS personnel check your package if it meets the required standards.
  2. Then proceed to have your shipment weighed and check the applicable shipping rate. Remember that you are also able to print Media Mail shipping labels at home.
  3. Ship your Media Mail package and secure your tracking number. You can always use the USPS Tracking Page to track your packages. 

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to purchase media mail packages and labels on the official USPS website, however eBay and PayPal allow you to print them. If you don’t have access to them, simply locate the nearest USPS store and head down for further assistance.

How Heavy Can a Media Mail Package Be?

So long your items meet the Media Mail guidelines, your total weight must not exceed 70 pounds. If your package exceeds 70 pounds, you’ll need to split your consignment into two separate packages.

How Big Can a Media Mail Package Be?

Media Mail envelopes have maximum dimensions of 12 x 15 inches and 3/4 inches thickness. Media Mail packages should not exceed 108 inches in length around the thickest part. 

How Long Does Media Mail Take to Arrive?

Media Mail can take anywhere between 2 – 8 business days to arrive at the delivery address and is subject to possible delays due to limited availability of transportation or inspection. The average delivery time for Media Mail is about 4 days. 

Can You Ship Media Mail from Home?

You can only print labels for Media Mail online through certain websites such as PayPal and eBay. However, you’ll need to head down to a USPS postal office to ship it. There are a total of 31,330 USPS post offices to choose from. Simply look up the nearest location at the USPS Post Office Locator.

Can You Ship Media Mail Canada or Internationally?

You’re not able to send Media Mail packages outside of the United States, to countries like Canada. International deliveries may only be shipped using different types of services. The full service brochure can be viewed here

Can you Use a Priority Mail Box for Media Mail?

No, as priority mail boxes are strictly for priority mail and may not be used for Media Mail or any other non-priority methods.

How to Track Media Mail?

Media Mail shipments are trackable. Once the package has been shipped, secure the tracking number and click here to access the USPS tracking website. Another alternative is to call USPS’ customer service line 1-800-ASK-USPS (8777).

What Items Can You Ship in Media Mail?

Primarily, educational items may only be shipped with Media Mail. While this only covered physical books initially, the list of applicable items was expanded over time. Below is the full list of items that qualify. 

  • Books – If you’re shipping books, they must be at least 8 pages in length. You may also ship material to supplement books relating to scholastic or academic studies. Books should not contain any paid advertising or a publisher’s own advertising. 
  • Films – Must have a width not exceeding 16 millimeters. Films must be the final version and if they contain catalogs, they must be directly related and must be more than 24 pages. Films and film catalogues sent to commercial theaters are not permitted.
  • Printed Music – Handwritten or digital music sheets, musical notations and other sound recordings may be sent via Media Mail. 
  • Test Materials and Accessories – Printed objective test materials that are used by educational institutions for testing and measurement of ability, aptitude, interests, and other quantifiable data. May also include answers including test scores, or recorded information in writing. 
  • Sound and Video Recordings – Items such as Compact Disks (CDs) and Digital Video Disc (DVDs) including incidental announcements of recordings and guides or scripts prepared solely for use with such recordings. Video recordings and player piano rolls are classified as sound recordings. Note that blank CDs, DVDs, cassettes and VHS tapes are not allowed to be shipped using Media Mail. 
  • Playscripts and Manuscripts – These may also be shipped via Media Mail, if used for books, periodicals, and music.
  • Educational Reference Charts – Printed charts for educational purposes such as graphs, diagrams, tables , figures, maps, mathematical equations, illustrations, images, periodic table of elements, botanical or zoological tables, and other topics related to the study of science. 
  • Loose-Leaf Pages and Binders – This includes medical information used by doctors, hospitals, medical students, and medical schools. All these items are permitted.
  • Computer-Readable Media – Media files that are computer-readable, which can include data, information, guides and scripts that are directly related to such media. 

Take note that you’re allowed to ship the items mentioned in the list above with Media Mail. Non-suitable items will be rejected and the package may be returned to the sender’s address or you may be charged with additional fees.

Below is a list of compiled questions and answers that deal with shipping specific items via Media Mail.

Can You Ship Magazines with Media Mail?

Magazines may not be shipped with Media Mail as they typically contain advertisements. Although they may have an appropriate size fit and are within the weight limit, they must be sent using other methods.

Can You Ship CDs with Media Mail?

Yes! CDs can be shipped with Media Mail, as long as there is content on the CDs. Therefore, blank CDs are not permitted. 

Can You Ship DVDs with Media Mail?

Yes, you’re allowed to ship DVDs with Media Mail, as long as there is content on them. Blank DVDs cannot be sent via Media Mail.

Can You Ship Comics with Media Mail?

No. Unfortunately, comic books do not qualify for Media Mail, as they typically contain advertising or promotion of other comic books.

Can You Ship Books with Media Mail?

Yes. Media Mail was initially conceptualized for shipping books and is still in the permitted category. Take note that books must have a minimum of 8 pages.

Can You Ship More Than One Book Media Mail?

Yes. You may ship a bundle of books with Media Mail, so long the package weighs less than 70 lbs and is within the maximum allowable dimensions. If your consignment of books exceeds 70 lbs, simply split the shipment.

Can You Ship Vinyl Records with Media Mail?

Yes. Vinyl recordings fall under the sound recordings category and can be sent via Media Mail.

Can You Ship Posters with Media Mail?

Yes. As long as the posters are educational they fall under the Printed Educational Reference materials. Poster may contain graphs, diagrams, maps, and tables. Movie posters cannot be sent via Media Mail.

Can You Ship VHS Tapes with Media Mail?

Yes, VHS tapes are acceptable, as long as there is content on the tapes. Blank VHS tapes cannot be sent via the Media Mail service.

Can You Ship Cassettes with Media Mail?

Yes, you’re allowed to send Cassettes with Media Mail, as long as there is content on the Cassettes. Blank cassettes do not qualify for Media Mail.

Can you Ship Trading Cards with Media Mail?

Collectible trading cards (TCG) like Magic: The Gathering (MTG), Pokémon, baseball and others are not allowed to be shipped via Media Mail, as they do not qualify as educational material. 

Media Mail Insurance and Inspections

Shipping insurance is usually an additional service that postal and courier companies offer. In this section, we’ll be exploring insurance coverage for Media Mail and package inspections.

Can You Insure Media Mail?

One downside of Media Mail is that there is no insurance coverage. The alternative would be to ship your items via USPS First Class or Priority Mail, as both of these services have optional insurance coverage. 

How Often is Media Mail Inspected

Because of the affordable rates, packages sent via Media Mail are prone to inspection to ensure that people don’t misuse the service.

Therefore, USPS may open packages and envelopes at any time, in order to ensure compliance. If found to be in violation of these requirements, USPS can return the package to the sender or charge for additional postage fees.

Frequently Asked Questions About Media Mail

This guide aims to share more information about the service, how to ship Media Mail, what items qualify and which are not permitted. As not all the information is available online, the list below answers some of the most frequently asked questions.

Why is Media Mail so Cheap?

Since Media Mail was meant to facilitate the dissemination of educational materials in the United States, the service fee was meant to be affordable.

As USPS is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States, making Media Mail affordable incentivizes people to use this service to share and promote educational material.

Why is Media Mail so Slow?

Media Mail takes about 2 – 8 business days to arrive, with an average delivery time of about 4 days. Though the Media Mail fees are very attractive, delivery times should be taken into consideration.

The slow speed of Media Mail is mainly when comparing it to more costly alternatives such as USPS Priority Mail or First Class Mail, which are typically expedited through air freight. Therefore, Media Mail strikes an ideal balance between delivery time and cost.