EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 47 - September 22, 2001 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 7

How to Package Books Cheaply, Quickly and Safely - Part 1

By Craig Stark

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Since I have been buying and selling books online, now going on several years, I've used several different packaging methods and observed dozens of others. In my opinion-and in this case it's a strongly held opinion-only one method all but guarantees the protection of a book in transit. Ironically, I've never received a book from a seller using this method, although I've had to return damaged books on several occasions, even one that was packaged with obvious deliberation and good intentions. It's a shame, because this method is not only the safest method I'm aware of, it's also the cheapest and most efficient.

As you may already know, books are especially vulnerable in two areas--the corners and the hinges. One may argue that the bottom edges are vulnerable as well (from sliding a book in and out of a shelf), not to mention the top and bottom of the backstrip (from pulling on it while removing the book from the shelf). In any case, if you've examined many vintage books, I'm sure you'll agree that, more often than not, the corners are bumped, sometimes with accompanying tears that expose the cardboard interior, and the hinges are either loose in varying degrees or split altogether. It's an obvious fact of life that packages are tossed, dropped, shoved into too-small mailboxes and otherwise abused once they hit the clerk's counter at the post office, and any of these things can result in a loosened or split hinge and one or more bumped corners.

When I first starting shipping books, I offered only Priority Mail and used the free, sturdy boxes provided at the local post office. I wrapped each book in bubble wrap, stuffed in some kind of filler material to stabilize things, and sent it on its way. It seemed to work fine, and during this time I had nothing but happy buyers-not a single complaint.

Initially my motivation to look for a different method was based on cost. It's expensive to ship by Priority Mail, and I wanted to offer my customers a cheaper alternative-in other words, shipping by Media Mail-without incurring a huge expense in packaging materials. My hope was that cheaper shipping charges would translate into higher bids. Anyway, it was this investigation that eventually led me to b-flute.

B-flute is a form of cardboard that has a skin on only one side of the corrugation. It generally comes in large, reasonably-priced rolls [Fig. 1] and is available in different widths. For packaging books, it's a dream come true. You simply place the book on it, roll it twice, cut the b-flute, tape the seam, staple the ends-and you're done. With practice (and a few refinements I'll discuss in Part II of this article) you can package a book in less than a minute. Cost? About a dime a book.

The best news, however, is that this method reduces the risk of damage to almost zero. There are two primary reasons for this. One, the corners of the book are protected by the edges of the package, [Fig.2] which in turn are reinforced by the linear-strengthening effect of stapling-a phenomenon familiar to carpenters who nail thin plywood to studs. Two, the hinges of the book are virtually frozen in place by the pinching action of the staples. Not only is the book stabilized, it's also immune to corner damage.

You might argue, with some plausibility, that other methods work fine. It's quite possible that you've never had a buyer return a book or received a damaged book from a seller. My answer to this is that we never have the opportunity to examine the book before it's packaged, and only painfully obvious damage gets our attention. The thing is, corner bumping doesn't always happen in one event. Often it occurs by degrees, over time, and becomes gradually apparent. The same is doubly true for hinge degradation. Sometimes this process takes years. Using b-flute will slow things down, at least while your books are traveling, to a near stop.

Next time I'll discuss the actual steps of packaging books in detail, and if you aren't a true believer yet, perhaps it will become more apparent then why this method works as well as it does.

About the author:

Craig Stark is a full-time online bookseller and former Editor of The Bookologist, a newsletter from the publisher of AuctionBytes.

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