What can be shipped via Media Mail?

Media Mail® is one of the least expensive ways to ship, but only specific items qualify as “media.” Learn what those items are and when and how you should ship via media mail.

Mon Nov 23 13:36:00 EST 2020
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Media Mail® shipping is a special service offered by USPS® as a practical and very inexpensive way to ship educational materials. Deciphering what qualifies as educational materials, however, can be a bit tricky.

USPS defines educational materials as: Books, videotapes, DVDs, CDs, printed music and other sound recordings. It seems simple enough until you dig a little deeper and discover that items like blank cassettes, comic books and magazines with ads do not qualify for Media Mail shipping.

There are plenty of other rules and restrictions we’ll cover below. But suffice it to say, if you ship a lot of items that meet the Media Mail criteria and you’re not worried about longer delivery windows, it’s well worth your time to learn its peculiarities.

What is Media Mail?

How long has Media Mail shipping been around? Here’s a hint: Old timey player piano rolls are included in the USPS’ list of qualifying items.

Introduced originally in 1938 as “Book Rates,” what later became known as Media Mail was created to “encourage the flow of educational materials through the mail.” As technology and the way we share information has evolved, so has the list of items that qualify for Media Mail shipping. That’s why you can now ship that old collection of easy-listening cassette tapes for rock-bottom rates.  

At the same time, those rock-bottom rates make it tempting for some sellers to skirt the rules a little (we see you vintage magazine sellers). You don’t want to do that. USPS takes its Media Mail shipping rules seriously as you’ll see below. 

Media Mail rules and restrictions

In addition to its mission, rates and rules, Media Mail shipping is unique in one other way: it’s open to postal inspection. That means when you ship a package via Media Mail rates you are giving consent to have its contents inspected. If your packaged items are not on the approved list, you could be charged with mail fraud. Or, more likely, you or your customer will be backcharged for Priority Mail rates.

If you don’t want your customers to receive a package stamped with a surprise POSTAGE DUE, pay attention to the following rules and restrictions before shipping your Media Mail package.

media mail packages cannot contain advertising or marketing of any type.

Items that qualify for Media Mail shipping

In addition to its mission, rates and rules, Media Mail shipping is unique in one other way: it’s open to postal inspection. That means when you ship a package via Media Mail rates you are giving consent to have its contents inspected. If your packaged items are not on the approved list, you could be charged with mail fraud. Or, more likely, you or your customer will be backcharged for Priority Mail rates.

If you don’t want your customers to receive a package stamped with a surprise POSTAGE DUE, pay attention to the following rules and restrictions before shipping your Media Mail package.

Items that qualify for Media Mail shipping

This list covers the basics, but when in doubt, check out the unabridged list on the USPS website for more details.

  • Books (at least 8 pages)
  • Sound recordings and video recordings, such as CDs and DVDs
  • Play scripts and manuscripts for books, periodicals, and music
  • Printed music
  • Computer-readable media containing prerecorded information and guides or scripts prepared solely for use with such media
  • Sixteen millimeter or narrower width films
  • Printed objective test materials and their accessories
  • Printed educational reference charts
  • Loose-leaf pages and their binders consisting of medical information for distribution to doctors, hospitals, medical schools, and medical students

You cannot combine any of these items with non-qualifying items in the same package, including personal notes and cards. An extra enclosure is allowed only if it pertains strictly to the item you’re shipping, for example:

  • Bills and invoices
  • A brief note that introduces the media
  • Instructions for the media's use
  • Corrections to any printed information in the media

Finally, Media Mail packages cannot contain advertising or marketing of any type.

What can or can’t be shipped via Media Mail

The following items rank high in the “can BLANK be shipped via Media Mail” list:

  • Puzzles: No, USPS classifies puzzles and books of puzzles as entertainment (regardless of how you view them).
  • Video games: No, video games do not qualify and neither do traditional board games.
  • Vintage magazines: No, magazines contain advertising and even old timey ads aren’t allowed.
  • Cassette tapes: Yes, so long as they aren’t blank. Same goes for CDs and DVDs.
  • Flash cards: Yes, but school supplies like pencils and empty binders cannot.

Media Mail packaging rules

Media Mail packages can weigh up to 70 pounds and measure up to 108 inches in combined length and distance around the thickest part. If your package weighs under 8 ounces, it’s less expensive to send it First Class.

Media Mail packages must include both the sender’s and receiver’s full addresses.

You can protect your Media Mail shipments like other packages with packing peanuts, bubble wrap or other filling.

Pros and cons of Media Mail shipping

The lure of Media Mail shipping is the price, which starts as low as $2.80 for a one- pound package. Plus, you can take advantage of many of the same services you get with more expensive shipping options, including free tracking and optional:

  • Collect on Delivery
  • Insured Mail
  • Delivery Confirmation
  • Signature Confirmation

The primary disadvantage is that your package will take longer to reach its destination. A couple of other things you might want to consider before shipping via Media Mail:

  • Less care is taken with the package. Your box of used paperbacks will arrive intact but wrap those player piano rolls carefully.
  • It’s a little confusing tracking what qualifies for Media Mail shipping. When in doubt, contact your local post office.

Media Mail shipping with SendPro Online

You can buy postage and print shipping labels for your Media Mail packages at home with SendPro® Online. With subscriptions starting at $4.99 a month, Send Pro Online offers members access to services from all the major carriers, often at discounted prices.