The USPS is Cracking Down on "Media Mail"

The United States Postal Service offers substantial shipping discounts for materials sent at Media Mail rates.  The predictable result, especially during an economic downturn,  is that retailers and the general public often try to send non-media items in packages at Media Mail rates.  In the current issue of American Philatelist, Wayne Youngblood, a Director-at-Large of the American Philatelic Society, reports that the USPS is cracking down on these abuses:
Media Mail as a class is not closed against inspection. Thus, our local post office and (in theory) a few others have been opening virtually all incoming and outgoing Media Mail for the past year (since July 1, 2009). Larger post offices are supposed to do spot checks. The explanation is that this enforcement program may eventually go national.

When non-qualifying material is found inside the package, the recipient is charged postage due for the difference from standard Parcel Post delivery (at this point, no additional penalties are being applied).  That difference may easily double or triple the cost of shipping.

The biggest problem for users of Media Mail is that the definition of qualifying items is somewhat vague.  "Advertising" is prohibited in material shipped at Media Mail rates, but advertisements are often incidental components of items that would otherwise be considered media.

The article notes that during these inspections, the USPS is also looking for evidence of inappropriate use or reuse of Priority Mail and Express Mail shipping boxes.

Link (pdf).

Magazines, i.e. periodicals, are specifically prohibited from using media mail in section 3.1. of DMM 173. Section 3.2. goes on to say what is explicitly allowed.

There is nothing vague about it.

http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/173.htm#wp1060522

I'm all for complaining about stupid government monopolies, but this isn't the best place to start.
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Yep, they do it around me too. Last time I shipped some textbooks by Media Mail, the employees were grilling me on the contents and telling me that my package WILL be opened. It got pretty ridiculous, because they kept repeating it over and over like I was lying to them.
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Several years ago I actually got charged because along with a book I sent a short note. Like a single piece of paper. They charged me the cost of mailing a regular letter. Did they do a cost analysis of how much they collected vs. how much they paid people to sit around opening packages? Seems stupid to me.
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I agree that there is probably a lot of abuse and if catching some of the willful abusers helps keep mailing rates low, I'm for it. However, it sounds like some stuff like girlalive mentioned is excessive. They shouldn't be inspecting and differentiating to that extent. The folks that are including a sheet of paper in with a book aren't the abusers that are deliberately scamming the system and costing us all money. It's the people doing lots of online auction items that aren't media and shipping them all media mail that are probably the main real issue.

Plus, I don't like that the one who RECEIVES the mail gets charged the extra postage. It should be the one who SENT the mail who gets billed if anyone. Especially in situations like online auctions, you didn't have any control over how the shipper shipped the package. You just saw their shipping rate listed, saw that as acceptable, bid accordingly with that rate in mind, and paid them for your purchase. You didn't ask them to ship fraudulently. You didn't plan to pay extra. Sure, on some things you could just refuse it and let it be shipped back, but some times, it's something you really wanted/needed and can't send back now. Plus, that would be MORE drain on the postal service, to ship things, and then have them refused and have to ship them back to the sender. It would have been cheaper and easier to just deliver the package.
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I agree with girlalive. It seems like it's less cost-effective to have employees going through peoples mail rather than just sending it. Does it really cost USPS more money to send a post it with a book than just a book. What they should do is charge companies like capital one who send advertisements every other week. Junk Mailers are the ones they should be cracking down on.
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Ifiscal- I agree with you! If junk mailers had to pay a reasonable rate for their mailing, they'd have to put a lot more thought into what they sent and to whom they mailed it. That would really reduce postal workload and costs. I'm for bulk mailers getting a reduced rate, that makes sense, encouraging bulk customers with discounts is just good business practice, but really the junk mail rate must be way too low.
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I could see the "charge the recipient" plan being a major loophole for scammers in on line auctions. They could list a low shipping price that would undercut the realistic shipping price listed in honest competitors listings, mail things that clearly aren't media mail as media mail, get them inspected, and the buyer gets stuck with the tab.
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Hey, I like the option of "book rate" media mail for a super cheap price if quick delivery is not critical and the stuff I'm sending qualifies.
And I like that when I tell someone that book rate is good enough, they are queried when they post it so that they don't inadvertently include non-qualifying stuff.
And I like that they, you know, actually police and enforce their own clear rules rather than just eliminate the category.
The other huge post office bargain is the M-bag. Not for everything, but if what & where fall within the rules, it would be hard to find a less expensive way of getting the stuff from here to there.
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"It seems like it's less cost-effective to have employees going through peoples mail rather than just sending it."

Due to being unionized, the Post Office has tons of workers just sitting around - so no, it's plenty cost effective having those workers find rate cheaters.
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The USPS policy on reusing boxes is just asinine.

Yes, it prevents professional sellers from abusing the system and ordering pallet loads of free priority mail boxes, but way to encourage responsible recycling by forbidding the other 99% of us from reusing perfectly serviceable boxes, even if we recut them or turn them inside out.
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if it fits in the package, what difference does it make what 'it' is?

it's a stupid distinction that should not be made. the contents are irrelevant. if whatever you're mailing meets the size and weight requirements then what, exactly, is the problem? it's an arbitrary, useless rule
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I use media mail almost all the time for my auctions because 98% of them ARE books, CDs, sheet music or videos. They may check them as much as they want, I just hope they repackage them as nicely as I do because that's one of my hallmarks. People who try to sneak otherstuff in are being stupid; it's not worth the extra few cents....
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Wow. I didn't know the "book rate" was cheaper.

Why don't they just inspect it as it goes in? Only make the Media rate available over the counter.
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I don't think I've read a single comment here that has exhibited any logic or clear thinking.

USPS is a service to which most devote little thought. The USPS, until the past few years, was the conduit for spreading information around this massive country. Now that the Internet has usurped it, people are all too willing to point at it as being wasteful or as being crippled by unions (do you really think they just sit around all day? My USPS parents might beg to differ...) Go ahead and privatize it, or just abolish it and let FedEx fill the void - then you'd really gripe about prices and customer service.
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GregIII. You should have read more carefully, I guess. There were a few good comments. Instead, you got mad because some (okay, most) folks think the USPS workers are lazy.

Let me assure you, the postal service has been the butt of jokes long before the Internet came along. If you desire proof, I need only point you to the TV show Cheers.
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We recently had to pay because we received a package mailed as Media Mail, which got opened and declared not media mail.

Here's the thing, though -- the sender had the post office she sent the package from inspect the content before sealing the package, because it wasn't clear to her what the rules allowed. They said it was fine. A different post office seemed to disagree.

So, at least based on this example, the rules are far from clear. If they're going to crack down on this, they need to be crystal clear about what's allowed.
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ted said "Why don't they just inspect it as it goes in? Only make the Media rate available over the counter."

Not everything shipped through the USPS is taken to an office and shipped at the counter. Lots of postage is printed in businesses and homes, and then picked up by the USPS or dropped off (at the PO or in a dropbox).
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GregIII,

LOL. The internet usurped the USPS? Really? How the hell could you come to that conclusion? It took it's business without legal right?

Were you around in the 1800's filing lawsuits on behalf of horses when they were being replaced by the car?
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AS far as I know book rate is only available at the counter....I could never get USPS.com to print a label for it.

Also...a single paperback book and lighter items are actually cheaper 1st class than media rate.
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Customers are abusing the "media" rate all the time and your complaints are that it is not cost effective to check the packaging or that the union workers are sitting around doing nothing. How 'bout the loss of postage (which is the ONLY way USPS derives funds) will eventually be passed on to the consumer via next rate increase.
Your neighbor who fraudently claims they are mailing books on his internet site, so he can pay the lesser of all costs with media rate, is stealing. When is it wrong to hold people accountable?

Anyone that thinks that short paid postage is not a problem needs to realize that its not the one .52 cent short paid package, its the accumulation of all. In one office that can be in the thousands. Last month alone we found over $400 short paid envelopes and packages in one small office. Multiply that by the thousand of offices throughout the nation.
Its stealing and those that steal should be held accountable.
I think its a shame the USPS doesn't charge more for repeaters.
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USPS Frustration!

Re: Book Rate states No Advertising. What is advertising?
I am a high school teacher and yearbook advisor. I often sell and ship
old yearbooks to alum. I took a 1941 yearbook to the post office the
other day to ship (at my own expense) to the 1941 graduate who
never got her yearbook. The postal worker only wanted to make my
life miserable, and he succeeded. He kept grilling me-what kind of
book is it? a yearbook? is there advertising in it? can't ship book rate with advertising in it!!, etc.
I told him it was a 70 year old antique yearbook, and probably
had some ads in the back from businesses no longer in existence.
I tried to explain to him that this is no longer advertising, that it is
now memorabilia.
The postal worker was not even listening to me, and was only
determined to ruin my day with his power trip. On and on he ranted
like a broken record.
I finally relented and told him to charge me whatever. At that point
he changed his tune and gave in to me and accepted book rate.
Go figure.
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This explains a lot. Yesterday I sent off a DVD box set I'd sold on Half that was too heavy to send first class, something you can do with most single DVDs, video games and the like. The jagoff at the counter upsold me to Priority, threatening that the package would be opened, probably doubting that it was what I said it was. I'll make sure not to let that happen again.
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What difference does it make to the post office whether it is media, advertizing or steel. They still have to deliver the package, it weighs the same as a media package would, and it's going to the same address? Duh. Just X ray it would be quicker instead of paying someone to open it. As usual the gov has its head up its butt. I don't understand why they give media a lower price. Must have something to do with someone in politics owning a book store or something.
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