Shipping Solutions for Booksellers

by Craig Stark

3 October 2011

Packaging Books for Pennies

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When packaging books, protection against damage is first and foremost. Cost of supplies is important too, but not at the expense of protection. Finally, the time spent packaging, if excessive, can negatively affect the cost of doing business. These are the three most important factors in packaging - protection, cost and time. One could argue that a professional appearance matters as well, but for the most part this can be achieved at little or no additional cost - of money or time.

Today I'm going to discuss the cost of packaging because, like it or not, the economy continues to slog along slowly, calls for another recession are multiplying, and I think most of us would agree that things just don't seem to be getting any better. Yet. Meanwhile, it makes sense to do what I can to insulate myself against the possibility that the economy could get worse before it gets better, and to this end there are few changes I can make to my bookselling business that have a more immediate impact than to spend less money on things that won't adversely impact my income.

Needless to say, spending less money on, for example, inventory makes no sense to me at all. I've spent more heavily on books this year than ever, in fact, because the opportunities to buy quality inventory at low prices are so plentiful. On the other hand, spending less money on, say, packaging supplies makes perfect sense, assuming it's possible.

Years ago, I recall writing several articles about packaging books with b-flute and thinking that this surely had to be the most cost effective method out there. Even today I can buy 250' rolls for about what it was selling for ten years ago - $9 for 9" rolls, $12 for 12", and $18 for 16". A typical 8vo book requires about a $.15 worth of b-flute; whereas a box might cost you two to five times that. If you sell a few hundred books a month, it's easy to see how annual savings could get well into four figures.

Despite huge cost savings, however, not many booksellers use b-flute. I know this for a fact because I buy at least a hundred books a month online, and almost all of them arrive in boxes or some species of envelope, usually bubble mailers - and alarmingly often in unpadded envelopes as well! Reasons for not using b-flute are no doubt various. For one thing, boxes are traditional among booksellers and old habits die hard; for another, local suppliers aren't always available, negating the cost savings; and so on. My own packaging practices have evolved to using b-flute no more than 10% of the time. I still think it's a good method; it's just that now I'm using Multi-D boxes for some books for near what I would pay for b-flute (because of enhanced protection) and another, newer method for softcovers and many small hardcovers that's both cheaper and offers even better protection against damage.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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