Why does it cost so much to ship my vinyl record from the USA?
I can’t tell you why USPS charge extortionate rates to ship internationally (compared to the rest of the world’s seemingly reasonable shipping prices), or why prices keep going up, but I can break it down for you fine folks who try and support independent music and have to pay these charges.
I think transparency helps.
Every time someone asks me,“Does it really cost that much to ship to Europe?”, or “Is there a cheaper way?”, I feel like a bit of a con artist. Because the cost of postage passed on to you right now, isn’t fair. It can even end up even more expensive than the record itself.
Truth is, it’s often the label or artist that is actually losing money when shipping records from the USA to (basically) anywhere else in the world other than domestic USA.
Shipping records domestically in the USA using ‘Media Mail’ is one of the best services you can ask for. The death of this postage method will be the death of US physical record labels/stores — long may it last. I can ship a >9lb box of records (~20 X2LP’s) to a shop anywhere in the US and pay around $10 excluding insurance. Thank you, USPS for that win.
But when I’m shipping something as small (and light) as a 12" record (or even a 10"), to any other country, including Europe or Asia, (even Canada) things go downhill very fast.
Here’s the cost breakdown of what goes on at a small independent label like mine.
The one thing people tend to forget when seeing the price, which is THE most important thing when shipping records, is the cost of packaging that goes into it. I received a record just this week, sent in a PADDED-MAILER (!) originating from FRANCE to the WEST-COAST USA. What’s the point in buying a record someone has slaved over for months, only to have it arrive bent-up? I would pay accordingly, every time if it meant my record arrived the way it was meant to. I care how ASIP records arrive on your doorstep — 50% of a release is in the presentation and keep-sake.
I use different mailers depending on what is being shipped. For single 12"s, or just one x2LP, I prefer the ‘Mighty Music Mailer’. They ensure no bent corners, and are easy to pack and open, meaning less tape etc. These cost $1.30 each, given the quantities I order in.
For any order with more than one x2LP, I use ‘Whiplash mailers’, with extra depth and sturdy walls to ensure no bent edges. Again, with freight costs, these end up costing me around $1.30 each.
Both of these choices come after years of testing other methods/brands.
Additionally, the package will likely also need cardboard stiffeners / pads. These work out to be around $0.50 each (after bulk shipping to me).
Then, you need to think about bubblewrap in many instances, or soft packing materials like, packaging paper, tape etc. We needn’t discuss these small items here, but they are a cost that adds up somewhere.
Note, big labels and record stores can buy all this stuff in bulk (or even create it themselves), bringing the price right down. I do not have the pleasure of a warehouse/stock room to store cardboard, so need to keep packaging to lower quantities.
Postage costs for a standard 12" or x2LP vinyl.
Because of the way the USPS qualifies vinyl (or anything that isn’t a “non-valuable flat document”) the “cheapest” way to send vinyl to countries outside of the US is First Class International Mail.
For countries in Europe, Asia, Australasia, for example:
CD’s now cost around $13.30 to send (the rate for a package up to 10ozs — 10.67euros / 9.40gbp).
One single 10", 12" or a single x2LP (plus the packaging materials), will tip the scale over this amount (a single 10" in a Mighty Mailer is even 14oz’s) and into the next price bracket costing, $22.33 (the rate for a package ranging from 10oz’s up to 1lb 17oz’s — 18euros / 16gbp)
Then, when you start combing multiple records, tipping the scales over 1lb 17oz’s, the price jumps to $33.96. (27euros / 24gbp). You’re now officially paying more than the price of a record…
Go even heavier (say, three x2LP’s) and your price jumps to $64.89. And so on, until you’re buying a plane ticket to pick it up yourself.
For Canada and Mexico, the price is slightly lower, but still expensive. A normal 12" or x2LP to Canada is $15.20, and for Mexico, $20.43, with similar upward jumps in cost.
So, to take the average ASIP record (a good quality weight x2LP, with gatefold sleeve, and solid packaging materials) heading over to Europe, we’re looking at a cost of $24.13 including packaging and USPS postage. We currently charge $25 on Bandcamp in this instance.
Not that I expect people to pay for my time, but, I’m spending 2–3 evenings a week packing records, taking numerous trips to the post-office etc etc. So I like to think the $0.87 “profit” observed goes a little way to making up for that time and any incidentals.
That is of course, until I have to re-send lost or damaged postage items (which happens on a weekly basis around releases) — any “profit” that might have accumulated disappears instantly. A lost package going to Europe, costs me $24.13 every time, unless I follow the extended process of trying to claim it missing through USPS, which many people know, is futile.
Next time you see the extortionate price for USPS postage when trying to order a record from the USA, I hope there’s now more understanding of the costs small independents face using USPS right now. Any other courier or alternatives (Fedex/UPS etc) only become efficient with large items. Other than that, we need to create a network of vinyl mules… I’m serious, it might be cheaper in the long run.
Luckily at ASIP, we have stockists in Europe/worldwide selling our records too. I love it when people buy direct with us on Bandcamp, as it puts names to our supporters, and opens up communication (and you often get some added extras in the package), but would much rather you get the record at a satisfactory price, and locally, if that’s important to you. After-all, everyone should be supporting their local record store and keeping the culture going.
Thank you for reading, understanding and supporting.