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Essentially, this latter method consists of cutting a piece of (free) scrap cardboard slightly larger than the book, shrink wrapping it with the book (if it's a softcover, oriented with the fluting perpendicular to the book's spine), and stuffing the resulting unit into a self-sealing poly mailer or a (free) USPS mailer.
Total cost using a 6" x 9" mailer is less than $.04, and there is absolutely no additional expense for poly bags, tape, etc. - and, since the materials are very light, considerable postage savings can be realized as well. The shrink wrap and mailers I use are resistant to puncturing and tearing, not to mention sealed against moisture, but the biggest advantage obtained is the additional protection against damage created by the shrink wrapping process itself. The book sort of semi-magically becomes an entirely different animal. It's not only frozen tightly in place but also transformed into a hard, wood-like block that cannot be deformed or otherwise damaged by anything but the most extreme handling en route, say, by setting one end on a brick and hitting it with a sledge hammer!
I've tested this method for most of this year and am very pleased with the results, especially for all but the largest softcovers. In the case of ephemera - documents, photos, etc. - or books with corners projecting over the text blocks, it's a good idea to use two pieces of cardboard, creating a sandwich, and cross-orient the fluting for ephemera and softcovers. I haven't experimented yet with larger hardcovers or very large softcovers. The effectiveness of this, I think, will depend on the strength of the shrink wrap used, but it's quite possible that heavy duty shrink wrap would do the job.
Shrink wrap can be purchased in rolls, tubes or bags, and obviously your greatest monetary savings will be realized with rolls, your greatest time savings with bags. Also, you will need two additional items - an impulse sealer to seal the shrink wrap before heating it and either a heat gun or a blow drier. Over-application of heat will cause the shrink wrap to fail, but very little practice is required to get a feel for how much to apply.
One more thing before I close - using this method will enable you to realize even greater savings by shipping books in free USPS boxes, envelopes, etc., when it otherwise makes sense to use Priority Mail. Example: The recently introduced legal size Flat Rate Priority envelope is large enough to hold many larger books if the shrink wrap method is used because a shrink wrapped book is essentially the same size as an unwrapped book. This is especially important for international sales. And a number of other USPS packaging products have been introduced as well. It pays to investigate the possibilities.
If you try this method, I would be interested in your feedback. Questions are welcome as well, and if you need a vendor referral for low-cost poly mailers, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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