Media Mail Hell
Doing business for an indie comic creator can be difficult. While the recent paper shortage might be the newest hurdle creators will have to maneuver as it continues to cause long waits for printing and distribution, shipping the actual books has always been an issue for creators. With USPS pricing in constant flux when a creator or publisher launches a campaign they usually take the time to approximate shipping into the cost of the book or in the tier.
For some shipping through “Media Mail” has been a helpful tool. Pricing is substantially cheaper to ship through media mail which is why it’s the preferred choice of most shippers.
So what exactly is Media Mail?
“Media Mail” which at one point was called Special Standard Mail is a subclass of package services that consists only of books, sheet music, printed educational material, 16mm film, video cassettes, CD-ROMs, (remember those?) and other computer-readable media.
To be fair one of the rules of the media mail class is that you cannot ship comics…why? The often repeated answer is because comics “contain ads” and any material containing anything other than “in-house” ads is prohibited. Packages shipping through media mail are also subject to be open and inspected by an employee of the postal service.
BUT what if your indie comic doesn’t contain ads, perhaps there’s just a full page at the end asking readers to keep an eye out for the next issue or another project from the same label…one would be forgiven for assuming that it would be fine. No, as a blanket rule as far as comics are concerned you cannot ship comics through media mail at all. The last time the USPS website updated this rule looks to have been in October of 2012 so it’s while it’s not a new rule it’s arbitrary from USPS employee to employee.
The screenshot from the USPS website indicates that “Comic Books don’t meet the criteria” for media mail with no reason for the exclusion given.
Xigency studios head Joe D. McFee is just the latest to have books sent back. McFee says about his returned package (pictured)
“The reason being is that a comic book was in it and it was sent media mail. They ignored the other prints and stuff in it. Furthermore, it was prepaid postage. It was scanned and now I can’t get refunded for postage. Even worse, they had to gall to re tape everything back including the Gemini mailer to send it back to me.”
Indie Volt contacted to post office Shipping Solutions department and were pointed to the USPS DMM (Domestic Mail Manual)
Page 124 of the 1323 page bible gives a list of what is and isn’t acceptable but DOES NOT outright ban comics from being shipping through media mail. Children’s books with illustrations are totally acceptable, but not comics?
A rep for the post office indicated that concerned parties should contact their postmaster general and speak to them about independent comics and the publishing side of the business as they are in a unique position to affect change in the rules and may not understand the differences between indie or mainstream comics.
More troubling still is how much misinformation is out there about the USPS shipping policies, with most creators adopting a wait-and-see approach, shipping out comics, and praying that some uninformed nosey nelly doesn’t return the packages their customers are expecting. “It can appear a bit unprofessional if a package just disappears and your customer reaches out to you when they realize they didn’t get it. I’ve been back and forth with UPS myself about starting a program like the USPS’ media mail but without the restriction on comics, as a distributor with Liberty Entertainment Distribution Group I went with UPS for a bit of a better rate through their business account, but that only really pays off when you’re shipping massive quantities.” Says Varian Grant CEO of Liberty Distribution and (Full Disclosure the founder of Indie Volt Media LLC). ” I think creators would be best served figuring out new ways to ship comics IF media mail outright bans comics, one would think the post office could use the money but who knows?”