Let me count the ways. I have already written much about proper packaging: see shipping rules of thumb. Lately I have come to know the joys of the store bought box.
Booksellers recycle everything from bubble wrap to boxes. It is in our nature, after all isn’t selling USED books recycling at its best? Accepted practice is to shipped used books in clean used packaging. I still advise quality books be shipped in clean new or as new boxes. A professional impression is key to repeat business. If you expect a customer to shell out three figures for a book, you don’t want them to think you don’t respect the book.
Finding the right size box for the right sized book can be a pain in the ass. Using too small a box results in not much protection and bumped corners. And we certainly don’t want to use too big a package as we end up shipping air. And then there is the 10 minutes you have to spend peeling and concealing previous labeling – always a joy. Sometimes you end up with quite an ugly end product. I once had to find a box for a huge oblong 3′ folio, this is before the UPS stores started vending that kind of thing individually. I ended up using the box from a stove hood and was damn glad to find it.
If you ship mostly octavos, it may be cost effect to BUY, yes I said BUY, cartons in quantity. If you can get them reasonably priced then it can save you much time and effort. And you also don’t look as silly juggling boxes at the post office when they are all the same size. Not to mention, that standardized shipping practices, speed the process up enormously. If you have a policy of wrapping your books the same way every time: polybag, cardboard, bubble wrap, box. Then you can ship quickly and efficiently, it becomes less of a chore and is much easier to show someone the process. Leaving it up to a minion to decided how much security a book needs, isn’t always the best idea.
Because of my non-book sideline at sicpress I finally had to break down and buy 2 standard size boxes. That was an incredibly painful step, I am as cheap as any bookseller, and plowing money into non-inventory items is something I’d rather do at the point of a gun. But I am forced to admit that having the right box at the ready has eliminated one of my favorite points of procrastination. I no longer look at the outgoing orders and groan about the time I will have to spend packing and repacking items, looking for the ‘perfect’ packaging.
Personally I try to buy as much from local vendors as possible. I think shipping shipping supplies is kinda asinine, but you can’t always shop locally. A lot of folks are happy with Uline, as they have periodic sales and their non-custom sizes can be quite affordable. While reading up on cardboard boxes, I found a place that supplies recycled boxes: Usedcardboardbox.com, though they may lean towards the large size, the concept is sound. Cast around your neighborhood for someone like a video store, or a small parts shop that tends to go through a lot of small boxes and make a deal. The trick is the be conscientious, if you ask them to save boxes for you, pick them up, the same day every week. ‘Your’ trash is taking up their space – move it promptly.
Shipping in a proper box also makes OPENING the package safely easier for the customer. Yesterday it took me 20 minutes with a sharp knife to free some books from their packaging: shipping tape wrapped around brown grocery bag around 5 layers of taped grocery store bags. I couldn’t just slice open the package without damaging the contents, hence the 20 minutes. If they had been something more than 5 dollar books I would have been really pissed off.
Anyways that’s my treatise on cardboard. Between buying boxes, bubble wrap, polybags and tape it’s a wonder anyone makes any money selling things by mail order.