Years ago, when I was learning this business, a publisher in Florida returned an entire shipment of books because our company had forgotten to shrink-wrap them. What’s the big deal, right?
Well, this publisher had warehousing that wasn’t air-conditioned. Books stored in high humidity have a number of problems, from mildew to wavy text pages. Shrink-wrapping kept his books saleable until the last copy was sold.
Shrink-wrapping is very inexpensive protection for your books. It protects them when they are shipped to you, protects them in your warehouse, and protects them when you ship them out to your customers.
You can save some money by shrink-wrapping the book in multiples of 2, 3, etc. Many printers just specify that they will shrink-wrap “in convenient multiples” meaning if your book is 1/2" thick, and they can shrink-wrap up to 4" book stacks, they’ll shrink wrap them in 8’s for you, which pretty much cuts the cost 88%.
Does shrink-wrapping always pay for itself? Not always. But accidents happen, and short-term storage becomes long term. Books kept in your garage or basement should absolutely be shrink-wrapped. And in that case, yes, it will pay for itself.
While I’ve seen books simply skid packed for shipment, I can’t remember many times the books arrived without damage. Printers occasionally gamble on this method when transporting books to a mailer or warehouse, and they often regret the gamble.
So your books will probably be carton packed. If your trim size is a standard size ( e.g. 6 x 9"), the printer no doubt has a carton on his floor to use. But if you have a non-standard trim size (e.g. 6¾" x 9½") or need to have the cartons hold a specific number of books or specify a maximum weight per carton, you will be charged for non-standard cartons and (occasionally) delay your title.
Cartons offer valuable protection for your books in transit. If you fill orders in carton quantities, the box will do double duty. Most printers stock a standard carton specified as 275# test cartons or the equivalent. This is the minimum strength box to use if you are shipping single cartons of books. Provided that the box is properly sealed and the books tightly packed so there is no internal shifting or movement, 275# test cartons should arrive without damage.
If the books will be skid packed and transported by truck and removed from their cartons for shipping in smaller quantities, a 200# test carton may be adequate. The price difference is minimal, so I don’t think this is a smart place to cut corners.
You can certainly specify heavier cartons (for a price) such as double and triple wall cartons. If you have specified (or anticipate) a carton weight over 50 lbs., you may want to consider upgrading to a double wall carton, especially if the carton may be shipped individually.
And please remember to recycle corrugated cartons. Most corrugated today has a substantial recycled content. It’s a waste of energy and landfill space to throw corrugated into a dumpster to be hauled away.
Printers actively recycle all of the paper waste that they generate. Publishers should make the same effort.
You also need to be aware of what information needs to be displayed on your cartons for your distributor. Typically, a bar-coded label would show title, author, ISBN, carton count, and carton weight. A warehouse that receives the entire shipment may also need each carton numbered, so they can tell if they have carton number eleven out of forty, or whatever.
Most printers have a useful template they will use that covers most, if not all, of that information, but if you have specific requirements, let the printer know when he receives the job, not two days before it’s scheduled to ship.
Finally, if the books are shipped directly to you, take a moment to examine the boxes when they arrive, and note any damage that you notice on the paperwork that you sign. Printers don’t ship books in crushed, ripped or torn cartons, so if there’s a problem, it makes no sense to ask the printer what he’s going to do about it. The printer can assist you in filing a claim with the carrier, but don’t expect the printer to reimburse your loss.