The Shipping and Fulfillment Mod Guide
Since this section includes “Shipping”, parts about physical goods does not apply if your project lacks a physical component.
Some main elements of being a good shipping/fulfillment mod include:
Knowing how to pack things for protection while staying under weight classes (Physical goods);
Efficient systematic approach for low error rate;
Good communication skills with the other mods, to help them understand what can be done; and,
Friendly atmosphere with customers, as there is a period where shipping mod will end up being the "face" of the project.
Rest of this page has infos on general procedures.
Fulfillment of digital goods
Mostly, questions about fulfillment of digital goods come in when and how.
Most zines with a physical component will send digital goods about 1-2 weeks after orders are shipped.
If your zine is running extremely behind schedule, it may be worth considering sending digital goods early.
Digital only zines, it varies.
Some zines will use services such as Gumroad, which can securely transfer files, and take a preorder period before dropping the digital zine. (Gumroad also allows for physical sales. Note it does not have robust features for more complex shipping calculations, e.g. to combine shipping.)
Zines which use BigCartel might pick a date to begin sending out zines.
Pick whatever timing feels right for your team.
Other ways people share digital goods is through itch.io, by adding people to shared files/folders, or via email.
Itch.io will let you upload a list of emails to generate download keys, however you will need to send a message to Support to get your account cleared to bulk send emails from your itch.io account.
When adding emails to shared files/folders, always test if you have accidentally exposed peoples’ personal information. And involve a friend who is extremely good at finding things such as hidden places to view all emails. In certain jurisdictions an accidental breach like this exposes you and your project to legal liability.
Via email, use BCC, a mail merge software, or a newsletter service to share the link. (There is more than just MailChimp, recommend looking up different ones that suit you)
Can also release it publicly for free after X period of months, or as promotion for a Series II of your project! (Both approaches have been seen.)
Fulfillment of physical goods
The problem of trying to pack things securely without damage while minimising weight has plagued eCommerce since the beginning of time. Amazon puts millions of dollars into research. Definitely have a think about how you might do it, especially because being familiar with weight breaks will absolutely affect the success of your zine.
You will need: Space, a printer, and a way to get packages to the post office.
Different countries have different shipping tiers and classifications. Shipping will vary based on the country’s post office.
Consider getting sample packs of packaging to really choose what packaging to get. It is generally inexpensive, or maybe Finance can reimburse / pay for it.
Should you already own some books or zines or similar items, you can weigh them and perform calculations as if you were to have them shipped.
Consider informing your other mods the exact or estimated weights of items, which allows them to more accurately contribute in the planning of bundles.
A country’s postal systems will influence what integration systems, if any, can be used to convert hundreds of orders automagically into individual labels.
About labels, the exact type depends on the postal service, but inkjet/laser printers can print them onto printer paper (to be taped) or onto label paper. If shipping mod expects to ship more than 400 then a thermal label printer might end up being more affordable / practicable.
Note however that inkjet labels can become messy when wet and render the address unreadable. Taping over the address can (mostly) work. Or laser printers can be fairly cheap if a thermal printer is too expensive.
If taping labels, be careful to not tape over barcodes, as sometimes the reflectivity can affect the scanning.
Some postal services allow for one scan to deposit multiple parcels at once. Others have the ability to do drop-offs or pick-ups. You will need to check yours.
For my small volumes of parcels I will laser print onto recycled paper, glue the paper to recycled paper mailers, then use small amounts of tape to secure over the address for safety. You can see how this is not efficient at large scales. A good shipping mod would think and plan their own packing process to cut steps out of the process for large volumes of zines.
Shipping mods will find it a lot easier if the orders for goods are placed in a way so that they can do pre-packing or any assembly processes sequentially, rather than everything all coming in at once or not coming in at all.
Etsy vlogs are an extremely good resource for tips and tricks! With Etsy sellers operating worldwide, they will also tend to come regionally, with plenty of infos about region-specific things. Especially good for regions with fewer zine resources, e.g. Indonesia.
Bundles can also be pre-planned to help make packing easier; too much customisation leads to error.
If customisable: Can outsource generation of packing lists or requirements to another mod and print a copy to go with every box or envelope.
To further reduce error, using different colours (such as in tissue paper) for half bundles and full bundles is very helpful for visual confirmation.
It's possible to also look at other zines for packaging inspiration. Things such as small bags, envelopes for prints, tissue paper, etc, can all improve the look of a package.
Eco-friendly note: Tissue paper is not recyclable (read here); there are differences between printing inks (read here); and if using foil, check if your printer recycles foil waste.
Consider how regularly you will provide updates during production, and if so, how you will fill the “silent period” where nothing happens because everything is being made or mailed.
Will your team be asking for any address updates?
You can also consider sending some bundles before others, e.g. international full bundles, if packing rate/sending speed happens to end up slow.
Remember to account for international orders possibly encountering issues before selling the last of your stock. (Some zines sell under the terms that no replacements will be sent, this does not apply for those zines)
On packing zines
To protect from movement damage, the contents should be a snug fit against the sides of the mailer.
To protect from corner damage, the backing board should be larger than the book. The book can then be secured in place - below, we have used tissue paper and then twine. Individually, the backing board, tissue paper and bubble mailers used on this project are not the thickest type. It's combined that they are able to take the force of any impacts.
A couple of extra ideas:
Discuss (if necessary) what order to pack/send different offerings.
Practice your spreadsheet skills: can download CSV of all orders and use VLOOKUP or Data to Columns to sort all required info into a nice format. Filters and Pivot Tables are also neat too. (Look these up on YouTube!)
Can add comments to each order in a shopfront if there is anything special needed. (e.g., early bird eligibility)
Comments and cancellations/refunds do not always get transferred automagically, depends on the system, so give it a check. You may need to override user data with "REFUNDED" and/or provide separate lists.
Another mod can help check and ready orders prior to the shipping mod packing the order.
Organization or Production can create a list of all things which are to be included in each bundle, for Shipping to reference during packing.
If generating specific lists, ensure to know if you are going by name(+ zip code?) or by order number. Communicate this to your helper mod, lest they send the wrong one.
Usually a lot of brainpower will be internally-facing rather than external during the shipping period. If somebody is not being utilised, maybe they can be tasked with thinking of how and what to communicate via email and social media?
*** These ideas depend on your tools and workflow, so it won't always be relevant.
Are you a shipping mod, or know one? We would love to include region-specific tips and experiences! Please consider getting in touch or putting it online.
Australians have access to: MyPost Business, Sendle, and DHL eCommerce.
Australia has a big market for eco friendly packaging, though a lot of it is focused towards food and drink and also retail clothing, more than items like books and art prints. It's very easy to find a lot of sites, we encourage your own research, but here are a few: HeapsGood (has labels, hex wrap and tape), Hero Packaging (has bubble mailers), No More Plastic Packaging (has cello bags). Note their cello bags are not "crystal clear", and compostable packaging can have a limited shelf life - contact specific businesses about their products for more info. They are very responsive.
Brazil *information pasted from Event Mod Network Discord
We have access to: DHL, UPS and Fedex but those three are heavily taxed upon arrival, so I recommend sending it through USPS or whichever other local post. ALWAYS include full tracking!! Otherwise the chances of the package getting lost are huge!
For contributors from Brazil, always mark the contents as less than $50 worth, preferably under $30 so they don't get taxed.
for customers it also helps if you mark it below $50. You won't get in trouble and the customer won't have to pay import duty (which is 60% the value of the product + 60% of the shipping cost)
I wouldn't recommend anything without tracking to Brazil. We have a fee to pay upon arrival of anything international (like $3). They hold your package until you pay, but if you don't have a tracking number you don't know that they are holding your package)
Canadians have access to: Chitchats (uses USPS), Canada Post (more expensive)
There is a Canada Shipping Mod chat run by humanbob in the Zine Town Discord.
Eco friendly packaging resource: Friendly Mailer, which also offers custom printing with MOQ 200.
Eco friendly packaging note: EU/UK market has nifty "fluted mailers", "honeycomb mailers" and "board backed envelopes". Interestingly, board backed envelopes can help to allow a zine to pass as letter mail rather than package.
Each country's postal services can differ wildly, do make sure to confirm yourself. Sorry for lumping you guys into one category for now.
link: UK Zine Shipping Guide by Nerinea (Royal Mail tips and tricks and places to source packaging)
From Singapore, mail will stop tracking when it reaches USA. This does mean that having tracking allows you to confirm it has *reached* US borders.
Mostly, PirateShip is used to get discounted USPS rates. Note you will need to contact Support to get the "simple export rate".
PirateShip emails have no product info when customers receive them, turn it off and mark as shipped manually in your storefront instead.
You can also generate shipping labels via Paypal (use this obscure link provided by tempural, thank you!)
USPS shipping tiers are fascinating. For uninsured, you can send letters (for light books and paper, max. 3.5oz), or Large Envelopes (flats, max. 13 oz, the max size is huge for zines).
Letters and large envelopes are cheap because they are machined (link to vid of one type of machine) and they are not tiers which are supposed to be used for merchandise. So you will need to pack in a way that your package can survive the machine. No charms or anything with bumpy bits! (thanks tempural)
They do not allow for any sort of padding for letters. Large envelopes can be ok if they are not lumpy.
You could possibly get around the flexibility rule by doubling the size of the envelope (the test is to see if it can fold in half (link), therefore, place book on one half and merches in the other half)
For eco-friendly packaging, be on the lookout for greenwashing and do your research. EcoEnclose (link) can do custom sizing and Byte Size Treasure has a lot of infos: Having a More Eco-Friendly Business
Mailers and clear bags are easy to find in USA, in general. There are a lot of distributors with regional warehouses.
Exporting to the UK: VAT 2021 Notes by @edelgardlesbian
Exporting to the EU: The Artist’s Guide to EU Tariffs by Luna Chai
Shipping to Germany (2022): A guide to Germany's new packaging law by Gumi (who also has a Shipping/Finance Support Group discord, visit that linked site)
Note: Because there are other sections we are focusing on fleshing out first, and online platforms are still adapting, we have chosen to not cover how to manage EU/UK tax changes in this guide at this time.
Sections of this guide were contributed by tempural, Ruby and others. Thank you!
Section: Organization - Extra tips for post-creation
A thought is that, in order to get help, it may be the Shipping Mod who will need to speak up first and communicate some of their needs during the final period. This page and the "Extra Tips for Post-Creation" section linked above contains some ideas you may be able to bring up for finding volunteers.
General Basics (Mostly USA-based)
Slumber’s guide - shipping services section is a bit outdated, very good info for the rest of it, must read
Ging33rsnap’s Shipping Mod Vlogs - zine-specific process of packaging