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MMD > Archives > November 1999 > 1999.11.20 > 05Prev  Next

Postal Service Options for Shipping Music Rolls
By Karl Ellison

Here's a topic that I'm sure many of us have faced at one time or
another: the shipping costs of sending rolls.  With the advent of eBay
and the like, you may be faced with the question of your options when
shipping rolls around the world.

As a stocking roll dealer, I am called to ship rolls all over the USA
and to other countries.  When I first started New England Music Rolls
in May, I had no idea what my options were other than walking up to the
postal clerk's windows and saying "send this the cheapest way."  That
meant parcel post or express mail -- NOT the cheapest.

After a friend plodded though the web sites of the carriers on my
behalf, I found that some of the specialized tariffs were available
to "Sheet Music", specifically "Special Standard" rates, a.k.a. "Book
Rate".  So I brought a box of two rolls to the local U.S. Post Office
and asked for "Special Standard rate, please."  The postal clerk wanted
to know what they contained, and I stupidly told them "Piano Rolls".

After a second of blank stare and the word "What?" I was told that this
tariff was reserved for paper music.  When I explained that they were
paper music, he retorted that it only applied to books: "Book Rate
is for books, Sir."  To this contradiction I replied that words were
stenciled on many of the rolls.

I had clearly given him too much information.  He denied my claim to
use the low rate.  Luckily, an older gentleman working the next window
overheard the conversation and said that piano rolls were okay for the
slow but cheap rate.

Am I going to have to go through this garbage each time?  Since then,
I wrote the US Postal Clerk and asked if rolls were classified as
"printed paper music", and he wrote me back that is was.  I carry this
letter with me when I make shipments, for the clerks who try to give me
a hard time.  When confused about my odd contents they take my letter
and after a second say "Please wait", and they disappear for a minute
presumably asking a superior if it is okay to do as I asked.  To get
around this difficulty, I now just declare the contents "rolled up
paper music".

Once there was a suspicion that I was lying.  "We are authorized
to open and check, you know".  I don't blame them on a 35-pound box;
that's a lot of "music".  I say, "Go ahead, but you'll have to repack
it again to my specifications".  That was enough for them, that it
didn't seem like I was lying to them.  Maybe the New England Music
Rolls return address helped.  I'm sure people try to dupe them daily.

"Special Standard Rate" mail receives no less quality attention than
does any other package.  It's just that it takes last priority on the
trucking logistic calculations, and thus takes 5-14 days to cross the
USA.  But the longer it's in their hands and not in the recipient's
hands means there's a greater chance of harm coming to the package,
unless it's packed properly.

I have found that when packing massive roll shipments (four or more
rolls), one should avoid placing the roll boxes anywhere near a corner
where three sides of the shipping box intersect.  These points are
often found crushed when they arrive.  With small boxes of less than
four rolls, the total mass of the shipment generally isn't enough to
harm itself when it's flung across a truck.  Pack them tightly so that
there's no vacant space to do mischief.  This means padding the rolls
themselves in the piano boxes!

What about overseas shipments?  Until recently, I didn't know any
better than to ship Air or Surface Standard Mail, which is quite
expensive.  I had to quote a shipping fee of $20 for the first roll;
clearly this stifled overseas sales.  Then I was led onto more
little-known tariffs that I wasn't told about at the post office --
it seems that you aren't told these things and have to find them out
for yourself.  Similar to the "Special Standard" rates are the USPO
"AO" rates.

There is a special table for AO "Books and Sheet Music - Surface".
This tariff has an 11 pound maximum (4 pounds to Canada) and is
competitive with the USPO Book Rate tables.  The catch: 6-8 week
delivery times.  My package to Australia took 3 months.  Most customers
are willing to bear the waiting in exchange for the cheap rate.  Those
that aren't are charged $23 to get it to them by 'air'.

But what about shipments over 11 pound?  It gets better, as the "M-Bag"
rate kicks in.  It boils down to $0.79 per pound to anywhere except
Canada and Mexico (they have another similar rate).  You go to the post
office and ask for an M-bag: it's a free canvas mail sack big enough to
stuff a small child in.  For anything you can fit in the bag and draw
the string tight around it, and if it weighs 11 to 66 pounds, then you
get this special rate.  Of course, you'll first need to box up your
rolls as if they were going to be shipped normally, but then the box
goes in the bag.  Or two boxes, whatever fits.

Don't have quite 11 pounds?  Throw in an old telephone book -- that's
printed matter -- and you save over the "AO" rate.  Proper packing
rules apply, as you can imagine the dockyard workers grabbing M-bags
by the drawstrings and winging them into the ship's cargo hole.

So if your recipient is willing to wait, there are very reasonable
overseas rates available to US postal customers.  But be careful:
away-from-the-sides packing is critical for large, massive shipments!

For Domestic "Special Standard" tariffs, see
For Overseas tariffs, see  (Check on
"International Postage Rates and fees" to see the "AO" (table 6)
and "M-Bag" (table 9) rates.)

It just goes to show: you don't get it if you don't ask for yourself!

Karl Ellison
Salem, Massachusetts

(Message sent Sat 20 Nov 1999, 15:46:21 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Music, Options, Postal, Rolls, Service, Shipping

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