Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Farewell, Economy Mail

Alas, bad news: the USPS is going to restructure their products next month. Unsurprisingly, “restructure” means more or less “eliminate the cheap ones and raise the prices on the others”. In particular, they are eliminating all Economy Mail (i.e. surface mail) products — the new products are all airmail. Their prices are a little higher than the current airmail prices — but, of course, a lot higher than the current economy mail prices.

Links: eBay announcement, USPS FAQ, new prices in PDF or HTML format.

[Update: a new version of the International Mail Manual has now been published on the USPS web site. Here's a direct link to the prices for mailing to Slovenia.]

For a person who, like me, likes buying books on eBay, shipping costs are often a very significant part of the total amount I have to pay for a book. Economy mail was a great thing — sure, it took them 6–10 weeks to get here, but it was cheap.

The thing I will miss most is undoubtedly the good old Economy Mail M-bag. M-bags work like this: the sender puts the books, or whatever it is that they're sending, in a stout postal sack and entrusts it to the tender mercies of the postal system. The latter, as far as I understand, simply waits until there happens to be some bit of space on some ship that they can stow the sack into. And in two to three monts, you get your book — plus the sack, so that I now have three or four of these sturdy sacks in the basement — I'm not yet quite sure what to use them for; they aren't quite large enough to be useful for disposing of a human cadaver (unless you care to carve it up and distribute it among two or three sacks), but they would do just fine for a cat or a moderately-sized dog; — but I digress. You get your books, in short, and all for the princely sum of $1 per pound of weight, 11 lbs. minimum charge, until a couple of years ago when they raised the sum to $1.05 per pound of weight.

By comparison, Airmail M-bag to Slovenia currently costs $3.70 per pound. In May, both Economy and Airmail will be replaced by “Priority Mail International”, which doesn't seem to offer M-bags, but there will also be “International Priority Airmail” with M-bags at $4.40 per pound. But plain Priority Mail International seems to be cheaper; just like now, when plain Airmail Parcel Post was cheaper than Airmail M-bags.

It seems there also exists “International Surface Airlift” (= slow airmail to the destination country, surface mail within the destination country) which will offer M-bags at $2.35 per pound in the new pricing scheme. However, although it's available for delivery to many countries, Slovenia doesn't seem to be one of them. Grrr.

Anyway, everything that is going to be available in the new pricing scheme is quite a bit more expensive than Economy Mail was in the old pricing scheme.

Chart of USPS Shipping Rates to Slovenia

On the upside, even under the new pricing scheme, the U$P$ is still cheaper than Roya£ Mai£ / Parce£force from the UK...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

good word

Saturday, April 28, 2007 7:23:00 PM  
Blogger La fourmi said...

It seems that m-bags still exists. Check
or there :
rates :

I hope I'm right.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 4:02:00 AM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

Hmm, that's interesting. From the table of contents at
it seems that there exist International Priority Airmail (IPA) M-bags, International Surface Air Lift (ISAL) M-bags, and then just plain M-bags -- I wasn't aware of this last category. But anyway, according to , an M-bag to Slovenia will cost $43.45 for 11 lbs, and $3.95 for each lb above that. Apparently Slovenia is in their rate group 5 (i.e. the most expensive one), rather than rate group 3 like other European countries. Damn.

Admittedly, even at these prices, an M-bag seems to be the cheapest way of sending something like 11 lbs, but it's not necessarily a very good option for lower weights. For example, formerly you could send 5 lbs in an M-bag for $11.55 (the same price as for 11 lbs), which was the cheapest option. Now 5 lbs in an M-bag would cost $43.45, whereas 5 lbs via Priority Mail International would cost $36 -- cheaper than an M-bag, but still three times as expensive as the old M-bag. I'm still shocked to see how expensive everything is now.

On the positive side, if this stops me from buying so many books, it may actually end up saving me money... :)

Thursday, May 17, 2007 10:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not so happy, affected my little business hobby.
will economy airmail comeback?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 5:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Mitja said...

Well, a change for the better is that there is now priority mail to Slovenia (which wasn't the case before). It's kinda expensive, but at least it exist. I wonder which one is more secure: priority or registered regular airmail (they cost about the same).

Monday, June 04, 2007 11:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just reasearching this same problem and found your site...

have you tried a Priority Mail Flat Rate Box?

From the USPSaite:
-Can be used for Domestic Priority Mail ($8.95) and International Priority Mail ($23 to Canada and Mexico- $37 to all other countries, 20 lb weight limit applies)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 3:26:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

Hmm, I hadn't paid attention to this method until now, but you're right -- Priority Mail flat rate boxes for $37 are available to Slovenia as well. It might be useful in some situations, but I'm not sure how often.

If you buy just a single book, then:

- If it fits into a priority mail flat rate envelope, it can be shipped to Slovenia for $11. A paperback (even two) will typically fit into that envelope, but a traditional octavo-sized hardcover typically won't (especially if it's a bit thicker).

- If it doesn't fit into a flat rate envelope, you can probably ship it as an ordinary priority mail parcel for $20-$30, depending on the weight. (E.g. $28 will ship 3 lbs to Slovenia.)

So in neither of these two cases is the flat rate box of much use.

In fact, comparing the cost of the flat rate box ($37) with the regular priority mail prices shows that the box makes sense if you can squeeze more than 5 lbs of books into it. Two hardcover volumes might weigh over 5 lb; three almost certainly will. But fitting three volumes into the box might already be difficult. The box is 11*8.5*5.5 inches big (approx. 28*22*14 cm). So unless your books are tiny, you have to lay them flat into the box and then their total thickness mustn't exceed 14 cm.

I've recently discussed shipping a 12-volume set with the seller, and it turned out that only three books would fit into each box. Sending the whole set as an ordinary priority mail parcel was considerably cheaper than using four flat rate boxes.

So, anyway, I'm not saying that the flat rate box isn't a useful thing, but I just don't see it being useful for me very often.

Saturday, November 03, 2007 8:05:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

P.S. Now I've noticed that there exists another flat rate product from the USPS, namely a "flat rate large box", which is 12 by 12 by 5.5 inches, and costs $50 to ship outside North America. Recently I've received a set of four fairly thick hardcovers in a box of this size.

Sunday, May 11, 2008 7:26:00 PM  

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