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I've stepped onto the path of being an amateur RPG publisher via Kickstarter. I want to see how far I can travel from zero-to-hero and I'm looking for help along the way. These series of posts are in part just me thinking aloud, but also asking specific questions as I put the pieces together to achieve rpg publishing victory.
Rather than asking questions in this post I'm just speaking aloud as I work out some costs and expound on my own experience shipping from within the States. Shipping is one thing that I'm well versed in because I've spent the last decade slowly selling off the grotesquely large game collection I'd been building up for a long time, but over indulged during the rise of eurogames. I've shipped over 500 packages in that time.
I've shipped stuff all over the world and, indeed, shipping can get pretty expensive depending on what you ship and how big it is. Oversized packages really can be a nightmare with international shipping prices, but thankfully in the RPG world this isn't really an issue.
Fortunately for RPGs weight and bulk normally are not that big of an issue. I've always used the US Postal Service for shipping. The main reason being that you get their priority mail boxes, along with a lot of other packaging bits shipped to you for free and you can just have outgoing packages picked up right from your doorstep when the mailman comes by each day.
Book and Packaging Weight
In getting some projections on shipping costs for my Kickstarter I pulled a bunch of different RPG books off the shelf, weighed them and then figured out some of the more extreme shipping costs that I could encounter.
Typically one doesn't have both a soft and hard back version of an RPG book, but I happen to have both version of the D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook:
320 page softcover 1 pound, 14.8 ounces
320 page hardcover 2 pounds, 8.3 ounces
That's a 9.5 ounce difference in weight.
Average book weights:
60 page softcover 7 ounces
100 page softcover 12 ounces
140 page hardcover 1 pound, 4 ounces
320 page softcover 1 pound, 15 ounces
320 page hardcover 2 pounds, 8.3 ounces
The weight of a priority mail box is around 8 ounces for those that would comfortably fit an RPG book. Packaging, such as bubblewrap that is sufficient to enclose a book comes in at something below an ounce, but should simply be rounded up to an ounce.
Domestic Shipping Costs
I went to the USPS online shipping calculator and put in the weights to see what would come up. It should be noted that I have a USPS digital scale to ensure that my weights are accurate. Vermont fortunately is essentially on the east coast of the US so I was able to target places like California, Alaska, and Hawaii and know it was going as far within the US as is possible. When I plugged in zip codes for all three of these states I got back the same prices. The results were:
60 page softcover: Priority = $6.20, Media Mail = $2.47
100 page softcover: Priority = $9.62, Media Mail = $2.89
140 page hardcover: Priority = $9.62, Media Mail = $2.89
320 page softcover: Priority = $12.82, Media Mail = $3.31
320 page hardcover: Priority = $15.46, Media Mail = $3.73
Media mail is looking pretty good. We should consider ourselves lucky that RPGs are primarily a book based medium because boardgames or basically anything else would needs to pay much higher prices to get anything shipped.
Media mail requires getting your own boxes, you can't use the free Priority Mail boxes. If you head over to U-Line you can get 100 mailers which would cost me $74.19 ($54+$20.19). That comes out to 74 cents per mailer.
One drawback to media mail is that you can't pay for it online. You have to go over to the post office and do it all manually. A real pain if you're trying to ship out scores of packages, but that's how it goes. With priority mail you can get it all done in your home online, pack it all up and then get the mailguy to pick it all up for you. Much more convenient, but you are tripling your shipping cost.
To Bubble Wrap or Not
You can go cheap and not wrap your book. My preference over my decade of shipping on ebay is to properly protect everything I send out. The grief and hassle of dealing with someone unsatisfied with the condition of the item isn't worth it to me personally. Out of the hundreds of packages I've shipped, only once did someone complain about the condition they received the item and from the description of the package they received it sounds like something terribly wrong happened in transit. They thought I should have packed things even more, but from my vantage point it represented a 0.18% failure rate due to conditions beyond my control. To reduce that further would double the cost of packing material.
Bubble wrap isn't cheap, but it's cheaper than foam peanuts. Get the small bubbles and not the big ones. If you go into an office supply store like Staples you can get a roll of 175 feet for right around $20 with taxes. Wrapping up a book is going to take 2 to 4 feet depending on the books thickness. So a roll will get you 43 to 86 books wrapped up. For wrapping you're spending 0.23 to 0.47 cents per book.
Tape and Ink
Two other things you'll need to factor into the shipping cost is tape and inkjet costs. Inkjet needs to be considered because printing out 100 labels via online priority mail shipping, or just want a clean label for media mail that you imported from the list of addressed you get from Kickstarter, then it'll be some chunk of those expensive ink cartridges. They are around $30 each, so maybe $10 of that will go to your labels. And by label I mean anything. I normally print out on regular paper and just tape it to the package, but you could go get some Avery labels that are formatted for specific sizes.
A place like Staples will sell lots of different varieties of tape. I just get their store brand in bulk for my ebay needs, but for a small crowdfunding project you'll likely only need two to three rolls. You want some kind of tape dispenser. Usually packing tape comes with a built in cutter, I happen to have a dedicated one and then mount tape rolls into it. I have to say, trying to tape up scores of packages with scissors will lead to your own unique insanity. It will take forever and you'll endlessly find the tape sticking to itself and pushing you to invent new creative ways to cuss and froth at the mouth. Here is a $15 package deal.
Adding it all together
Say you have a successful crowdfunding project and need to ship off 80 softcover books to people within the US. A shipping cost breakdown might look something like:
Shipping ($3x80) $240
Paper + Ink $20
Total is $370. Now if this is so successful that you have to ship 80 books to people then you'll likely have brought in $2000+, so it should not be a huge burden, perhaps being 20% of your funding.
Where domestic shipping just takes a reasonable chunk out of your funding, it's international shipping that could really hurt you unless you plan accordingly. For the US shippers the two main options are Priority Mail and International First Class Mail. First Class will be cheaper, but often are much longer shipping times.
Here are the costs for the books I sampled if they were going to Germany from Vermont:
60 page softcover: Priority = $30, First Class = $11.60
100 page softcover: Priority = $32.54, First Class = $14.74
140 page hardcover: Priority = $32.54, First Class = $16.31
320 page softcover: Priority = $36.58, First Class = $21.02
320 page hardcover: Priority = $40.61, First Class = $25.73
First Class, right? Probably, but just like media mail in domestic shipping, you can only do First Class International shipping at the post office. The convenience factor is there, however regardless of Priority or First Class you have to go into the post office and interact with a clerk to get international packages off. You can't just have them picked up at your house.
In terms of price, do your homework and then price accordingly. Since you are likely eating the domestic charges for shipping (roughly $5) just take whatever shipping cost your research gives you and deduct $5 from it and you'll have what you need to charge international backers.
If you find that you need to send several books to one address, perhaps a retail store wants several copies, then look into the Flat Rate Priority Mail Boxes. This might end up saving you a lot of money as you can cram quite a lot of weight into a single box.
The Customs Man Cometh...
It's nearly inescapable, tedious and with stoic resignation you just need to take a deep breath and face it head on.
International shipping usually requires a customs form to be filled out. Rather than have anyone get mad at me, I'll just quote the website:
Generally, you’ll need a customs form for all international mail except First-Class Mail International® items and Priority Mail International Flat Rate™ Envelopes that weigh less than 16 oz, are no more than 3/4" thick, and which contain only documents.
So you might be able to dodge this whole affair if you stuff a thin book into an envelop and send it off. I'm going off the assumption of better packaging and heavier books with this discussion.
With ebay they have integrated paypal and the US online shipping service to the point that a lot of the tedium is gone. You just print out the prefilled out forms, sign them and then stuff them in a special clear plastic pocket that displays the shipping details. However all of this has to be done manually with a crowdfunding project. You can get this paid for and printed out with the online postage service and so that can help reduce the amount of details you have to write onto the forms, but if you have a lot of customs forms to fill out you're just going to have to suck it up and grind through them.
Lastly, with customs forms, always physically write out your return address and the sendee's details on the box itself. The customs forms get pulled out of the pocket and get moved around and to avoid mistakes beyond your control just make sure that in the end someone can figure out where the box needs to go regardless of what happens to those forms.
If you aren't familiar with boxing up a lot of items and sending them off, it takes a sizable amount of time and expense. When I ship out batches of ebay items, amounting to 10-15 packages, it can take almost a full work day of time to get all of the niggly details worked out and moved out of the house and into the shipping stream. There is always some complication that comes up with an address, packaging, customer issues, or you simply forgetting a key detail once you get to the post office. Having someone accompany you to the post office is a huge benefit because you're likely going to be standing in a long line, juggling lots of packages, needing to quickly fill out some last detail, and so on. Thus plan your time accordingly and see who might be able to help for a few hours.
If you plan to do as much work at home and online then buy a USPS digital scale, using some other scale (God forbid a bathroom scale) you're just opening yourself up to surprises and delays.
- Last edited Sun Jul 8, 2012 10:56 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Apr 25, 2012 9:01 pm
He went overloading on testing and coding and his name was
Support comes in many forms: community involvement, forum posts, submitting data, running PbF games, word-of-mouth advertising, financial donations... All these are vital to this site, and you have my sincere thanks for participating in any of them.
I didn't expect to find an essay on postage to be quite so fascinating! Thank you very much for the insight.
As I understand it, international shipping from the USA is relatively more expensive than international shipping to the USA from other countries. Folks in other countries should definitely do their own calculations, but also take into account that the largest market for English-language RPGs remains the USA.
Author of Psi-punk - Coming Soon!
Very useful information, thanks!
Man, where were you when we started out in 2000, nice job and very detailed, kudos!
I've been Banished to Oregon... Gaming in Corvallis, living in Alsea... Need gamers willing to try new things...
The Splattered Imperium
Just one thing to remember: the Post office doesn't actually deliver to homes in all areas.
I've lived in neighborhoods served only by caller boxes, and others served only by post office boxes (no carriers). Almost all of the "lower 48" have mail service at least to the building level... but there are entire towns in Alaska where all mail is "General Delivery" to the local store/pub/post-office (all the same store). If you're off the grid, it's possible to have internet but not reasonable postal service.
This is as important to remember when shipping as when ordering boxes... a 25¢ gallon ziplock (no slider) or 5¢ of Saran Wrap can save a lot of hassle in replacing stuff damaged by water during shipping.
Somehow, I wound up with an end-roll of shipper's shrinkwrap (think REALLY thick food wrap), and when I've shipped stuff I've sold, usually it's securely wrapped to be almost immersible.
Neil, thanks for providing the link to this post...you touched upon many of the concerns I had related to international shipments.
Offering a reasonable and unsubsidized service to ship rewards to international supporters of a Kickstarter project is a challenge no matter how you slice it...
Just a minor update on my own KS.
I've been shipping out thank-you post cards to backers that had no other physical items needed to be shipped. I did 5" x 7" cards as I wanted the artwork to really standout. I was able to get those printed from PsPrint and they came out perfectly fine. You do have to put in the effort to make sure you are following their template with Photoshop and Illustrator. Nothing horribly complicated, but you do have to spend a little time making sure everything lines up.
Shipping these oversized postcards was a tad on the expensive side. It was regular letter postage for the US, 85 cents for Canada, and $1.05 for everywhere else. It's not a huge hit in my budget, but just wanted to pass this data point on for others.