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Ideas on Individual Book Fulfillment

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Individual book fulfillment is not something we do much of but it is something our customers ask about. So, after some customer requests that we do an article on it, I made some calls to a couple very small publishers who do their own individual book fulfillment, a mailing house that primarily does journal fulfillment, and our own people who actually do some fulfillment. I think I now have enough knowledge to give you some useful thoughts about how these people handle individual book fulfillment. At any rate, here’s what I learned.

Fulfillment Packaging

Individual books are usually sent to purchasers in envelopes, polybags, padded mailers (Jiffy bags), corrugated sleeve type mailers, individual mailing cartons, or bumper end cartons. The pros and cons for these are, more or less, as follows:

Envelopes: They are used primarily for journal mailings. Envelopes are expensive, about $0.12 or so per envelope, with the price depending on the number you buy, and they offer little protection to the books. Envelopes are probably rarely ever used for a case-bound book. If you use envelopes for your soft-bound books, you should get them with your return label printed on them and then either type a “to” label or write out the purchaser’s address.

Polybags: These are also used primarily for journals, are a bit less expensive than envelopes, but they need special equipment that a small publisher isn’t going to have. The label used for polybag mailing goes inside the bag on a separate card or sheet that lies on top of the book. For journals, polybags are now more popular than envelopes, but like envelopes, they offer relatively little protection against damage.

Padded Mailers: These are probably the mailer of choice for small publishers who do their own fulfillment of individual (or at least small quantities of) soft-bound books. They are now available as self-sealing bags (staples or tape are no longer needed to seal them) that require only 15 seconds or so for the inserting and sealing. One soft-bound book publisher that I talked to had very high praise for this method. They usually cost about $0.15 each in cartons of 100 and you can apply a label directly on the outside. My publisher friend put on a return address label then handwrote the customer’s address on the bag. The publisher also said you can do this easily while watching TV. This mailer, however, may not be adequate for protecting hard-bound books.

Corrugated Mailing Folders: This mailer would appear to be the mailer of choice for small publishers who publish and fulfill their own hard-bound books. These mailers can be purchased from a catalog, and they come in a wide variety of sizes. For 6″ x 9″ books, the cost is about $0.25 to $0.30 each in quantities of 1,000 or so. They come flat with several scores to accommodate different thicknesses of books and the assembly, inserting, and sealing process should require less the 30 seconds to complete. Corrugated mailers can be used for more than one book, and they offer pretty adequate protection. They generally are used for packages up to about 1 1/4″ thick and are usually sealed with tape.

Individual Cartons: These would generally be ordered made-to-size for a specific size of book . . . or they can be ordered from a catalog if you can find a stock size that fits your book. When custom-made in quantities of 500 to 1,000 or so, they will run about $0.65 each, and they take about one minute to assemble, insert, seal, and label. Corrugated mailers probably offer a bit more protection than a mailing folder, are not as popular, are more expensive to purchase, and more labor intensive to use. However, they do a good job.

Bumper End Cartons: These offer about the best protection available. Because of the expense, they would likely only be used for hard-bound books or a particularly valuable soft-bound book. They will usually cost $1 each or more and may take up to two minutes to assemble, insert, seal (with tape), and label.

Other Notable Tips

Besides the summary of mailing devices, there is some miscellaneous advice I picked up that might also be of help. Most individual books are best sent book rate but as the weights get higher, the Post Office or UPS may have less expensive offerings. It’s a good idea to discover your local Post Office’s least busy time and then visit them at that time of day.

My next door neighbor fulfilled over 40,000 soft-bound books (in padded mailers) out of the house with every order being handled in less than 24 hours. The neighbor went to the Post Office six days a week at 7:30 am. Many comments were made about the speed of the order fulfillment. And it was largely done in “spare time” while watching TV or while dinner was cooking.


While this information has covered a lot of mailing devices, there are probably a lot more systems out there. Necessity is the mother of invention, and there may be as many fulfillment systems as there are publishers.

Editor’s Note: If you have any ideas on fulfillment that you’d like to share with our readers, tell us about them, and we’ll pass them on in an upcoming issue of the PMA Newsletter.

Thomson-Shore is a book manufacturer specializing in short- to medium-run printing of from 100 to 20,000 copies. They also provide prepress and bindery services. The company can be reached at 7300 W. Joy Rd., Dexter, MI 48130, phone 313/426-3939, fax 313/426-6216, e-mail jimh@tshore.com.

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