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Don't Let "Ace Ventura" Get You: The Basics of Book Packaging

Posted by Jason Walters on

Did I do that to your box? Whoops!


Sometimes shipments that came into our warehouse contain large amounts of damaged products. And sometimes, despite the best efforts of their packagers, shipments arrive at your home completely ruined. Since I've not only run a book warehouse for ten years, but spent the previous fifteen running a delivery service, I thought it might be prudent to go over a few things about shipping and packaging with all of you: especially publishers who are relatively new to the business, but also those who love to order roleplaying game books. Because I'm not only a publisher and a distributor, but also a fan, and want you to get the best possible financial yield from your print runs so that you can afford to keep making more games! And I hope that these suggestions will help you reach that goal not only when doing business with Indie Press Revolution, but in all of your undertakings.


Firstly, do you remember that scene from Ace Ventura Pet Detective where Jim Carrey is kicking the box down the road disguised as a UPS man? Assume that is the normal handling any individual box receives, no matter how it's shipped. It's not so much your postman or delivery driver that's doing it (though sometimes) as the warehouse guys and their machines. Every box takes a beating, and thus every box must be packaged to take a beating, whether it's going to an individual customer, a retailer, or into distribution. (Because we can't *do* anything with books that come pre-ruined.)


Secondly, publishers: you know those boxes your books or games came in on the pallet from printer? The ones that are made out of the cheapest single-thickness cardboard China can manufacture using recycled newsprint and toilet paper from Maanshan? Those aren't for shipping individually by USPS, UPS, or FedEx. They won't protect your products and, if you ship hardcover books in them, they will most likely explode in transit. The same thing goes for using Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes without additional packaging: they simply can't take a real beating. And that's exactly what the Russian or Italian postal services are going to give them: an actual beating.  


So, what should you do instead? There are two basic methods for shipping books and games safely. Neither of them is foolproof. Nothing is. But they should work 99% of the time and prevent your actual products from taking the horrible beating your boxes are going to get.


The first is the method I use: the flying brick. Basically, you double box items with  thick corner pieces placed between the two, put pieces of paper between the books to protect the covers, and then add whatever packing material is needed on the top. The boxes generally should be small, the inner box should generally be new, and you end up shipping a lot of small boxes that weigh around 25-30 pounds. (It also allows a warehouse to "re-purpose" older, used boxes for the exterior, as the exterior box is going to get beaten like a heroic prisoner in an 80's action film in any case. And "Recycle, Re-purpose, Reuse" is the popular motto out here in the desert!) 


The second method is the method Alliance uses. Let's call it "the mega pillow." It's actually a better method, but requires a large amount of physical room to package, huge amounts of packing popcorn, and specialized equipmenjt. (All of which cost more money as well.) Basically, you suspend a box within another box with roughly 6-inches or more of packing popcorn on all sides. The boxes you ship are thus very large and heavy - and you still risk heavy books harming themselves within the inner box due to sheer weight (sometimes as much as 60 lbs!) - but you can hit the package with a hammer and not hurt the contents.


Both of the methods work for shipping quantity, and either can be used. Or something entirely different. But the important thing is to get your distribution network or retailer they can sell - rather than products they have to send back, mark down, or throw out. Believe me: it's worth the extra time, money, and energy.


For shipments of a single book or a couple of books, different packaging can be used. One method we use for small, paperback books is to wrap them in a piece of cardboard ("chip board" is the term U-Line uses), place them inside a large padded manila envelope (The kind with bubble wrap is better than the kind with cloth or paper "padding." And cheaper too.), and fold that over before taping to double the protection. That works well 99% of the time. With a single hardcover book, we like to place them inside of one of those large padded envelopes, then place that inside of what's known as a "literature mailer" or "lit mailer" - basically, a book-sized pizza box you can buy in bulk from suppliers like U-Line. If taped together properly (two pieces 'round each direction), they can survive a shocking amount of abuse.


Jason Walters, IPR General Manager

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