Shipping Image by Nik

Kickstarter Breakdown Pt.4 - Shipping

In part one I talked about how continuing an ongoing series influenced the design of our campaign. Part two covered our experiences with research, analytics, and advertising, while in part three we explained the differences we see between offset and digital printing. In this post I’ll be detailing our shipping process, mostly discussing the materials and tools we use and why.

Shipping is quite an interesting experience. On the one hand it basically amounts to manual labor, but there’s something deeply satisfying about delivering to the people who supported you, especially when the names become familiar over multiple campaigns. It’s also nice having a natural ending point for the work.  Sometimes doing creative work feels like climbing an endless mountain -- you can always revise a script some more, or write more blog entries, try to get more press, etc.. It’s a good feeling switching it up every once in awhile, doing straightforward, honest work.

Packaging Materials

One of the things we greatly improved upon from the first Kickstarter was the packaging of our shipments. We were a bit naive about this the first time around, and shipped most of our packages with bubble mailers.

Bubble Mailers. Good for certain things like T-Shirts and small orders, but not for comics.
We thought that the layer of protection provided by the layer of bubble wrap would be enough. That didn’t turn out to be the case for a number of the packages, as indicated by our backers, some of whom were very disappointed at our packaging.

In the buildup to issue two, we knew we really had to improve the materials we shipped our books in or else risk the wrath of our supporters again. We looked into other Kickstarters, asked around and came up with the following materials:

  • Chipboard Mailers

These things are amazing. They’re made of pretty stiff cardboard, have their own adhesive, and don’t weigh a ton. Honestly, probably the best way to mail single to triple issues of floppies. They can still be bent, but it takes extraordinary effort to do so.

Chipboard Mailers. Flat, sturdy, and mostly unbendable. Good for Comics, but determined mailmen can still mess these up if they need to stuff it somewhere.
Because of the chipboard mailers we received approximately 1/3rd of the complains from our first Kickstarter while shipping almost double the amount of packages. Some damage in the shipping process is inevitable -- a lot of mailmen are handling this stuff, and sometimes they may lose their patience and end up folding or stuffing things into tight spots because they’re having a bad day or just want to get on with the rest of their job. Understandable.

We make it our policy to always replace damaged items so long as backers show us evidence of the damage. We always want to make our backers happy and ensure they have the best possible experience we can deliver. Superior packaging and good communications along with replacing damaged merchandise is all part of that.

Pricewise, Chipboard Mailers were about the same per unit as Bubble Mailers, so they didn’t add too much if anything to our costs. They are a little bit heavier, but that doesn’t translate necessarily into more postage (more on this later). A single chipboard mailer can fit maybe three 36 page comic books. 

  • Bags and Boards

Along with chipboard mailers, we also decided to add bags and boards to our comic packaging for the second Kickstarter. I think we just were a little out of the loop of the comic scene our first time out, and didn’t realize how much these little touches added to the customer experience.

To be honest, we didn’t want to do it the first time around because bags and boards are a little on the pricey side. In total, they cost about a quarter per unit, which adds up rather quickly. They’re even more expensive in the UK, and harder to source. We had to look up individual merchants from ebay in order to get a decent price that was still about 40% more expensive than what we would pay in the States.

Still, bags and boards provide a quintessential ‘comic experience,’ and adding them as standard shows that we really care about the quality of our product and the delivery therin. It also takes a little bit more time packaging everything, but again if it makes the customer that much more satisfied and happy, then it’s worth it in our eyes.

Physical Tools

These are the items on my desk while shipping. And no, I'm not getting sponsored by any of these guys :).

The DYNMO 4XL keeps our entire shipping operation going. Both Vince and I have one. Out of all the equipment we bought for shipping, this little gadget has been the most used and most reliable. Highly recommend.

Any mailing scale will do. Mostly we use this sucker to weigh unique packages and double check every 50th or so batch package.
  • Packaging Tape 
The USPS brand is cheapest if buying off the counter.
  • Scotch / Double Sided Tape
Mostly for taping bags and boards shut.

  • Sharpie
For signing stuff and notating packages.
  • Scissors


Web Tools

The online tools/platforms we use are designed to save us time. If need be, we could just do everything out of Kickstarter, but it would probably mean not only more labor for us, but an increase in the amount of packaging mistakes. The flip side is that the tools are an additional charge that takes away from our bottom line. 

BackerKit is a back-end web platform designed to support crowdfunding fulfilment. There are a number of tools in its suite, the most important of which is a survey / spreadsheet system that helps creators organize backers by batch categories. So for instance, I can with the click of a couple buttons see all of the US-based backers who ordered a red sticker, copy of issue two, and postcard. Instead of packaging them individually, I can finish them all off in one go assembly line style. This saves us a lot of time and helps dummy-proof us from our own packaging mistakes. Of course, those types of mistakes are still made, but we're fairly certain the percentage is reduced because of the greater organization BackerKit provides.
I prefer their old branding.
The other main benefit of BackerKit is that it can act as a secondary storefront for add-ons or preorders. In our experience, this has helped BackerKit more than pay for itself. The addition of another storefront typically adds something like 8% of your original funding amount on average, which is a nice little boost. 

Pricing-wise, BackerKit has a three tiered system where they take both a percentage of your total raised as well as some from the pre/add-on orders. Again, in our experience BackerKit has paid for itself and then some each time. That may not be the same for everyone. 

We decided to offload all of our add-ons to Backerkit for our second campaign. This meant not listing individual prices for the Kickstarter and telling people who wanted add-ons to wait for the BackerKit survey. I think we actually lost some potential revenue because we lost perhaps some spur of the moment purchases, but it saved us the hassle of having to figure out add-ons without a clear logistical system in place. 

Our dashboard in Backerkit. Packages are ordered by groups, which lets us assembly-line our packages.


So, would I recommend BackerKit to other Kickstarters? Yes…. but with some trepidation. The services BackerKit provide are great, but the customer service can sometimes be lacking. Keep in mind the only time we access BackerKit is during our fulfillment. If we have to wait for BackerKit to respond (which we’ve had to do time and time again), that means we’re not shipping books and twiddling our fingers. Both Vince and I have other commitments, so it’s hugely frustrating when the time we allocate to ship is wasted because the platform designed to save us time is in fact holding us up. 

It’s also a little buggy at times. It’s kind of funny because I’ve played video games all my life, right? So I know what a bug is… I know one when I see it. When I’ve talked to their customer service reps about certain technical issues in the past, their neutral response is always along the lines of ‘oh no… can’t possibly be something on our end!’ If not in words then in tone. I wish they would be a little bit less assured of their technology and a little bit more ...accepting of their faults.

That said, the added revenue is nice and there’s no doubt that the systems BackerKit provides are useful logistical tools. They’ve also gotten better as a service the longer they've been at it. 

For domestic shipping, we use to buy postage. costs about $15 a month, but they give you a free trial and some credit for postage when you first get started. The system is pretty intuitive and each package saves us an average of .25 cents over going to the post office or using BackerKit's built in postage (which goes through endicia). 

So, as long as you're shipping 60 media mail packages or more the service pays for itself and saves you money. It definitely saves you time over the USPS website, which is kind of a hot mess. 

Main benefit? You can cut and paste domestic addresses, and it has a plug-in that allows us to print for the DYNMO 4XL without having to fiddle around with settings. For each package that saves us maybe fifteen seconds, but it all adds up when you start to deal with hundreds of the suckers. 

Suspending the account is a bit of a hassle. You can't just do it on the website and have to talk to a customer representative. They'll try and appease you by offering free months of service, but I think they do that in the hopes that you'll eventually forget about it and keep on getting charged. Just got to stay on top of it and cancel right away. 

Domestic Shipping

We use media mail to ship the majority of our packages. This is the cheapest option so long as the package only contains books or other forms of media. Media mail is also measured by the pound, so there's a huge amount of leeway with regards to packaging material. That's why I said earlier that the switch to cardboard mailers - despite being heavier - did not effect our shipping costs. Two comics bagged and boarded is going to be under a pound in both chipboard and bubble mailer.

There's some info online stating that media mail is not suited for comics or magazines because those items contain ads. Our books don't contain ads because we self-publish, so...

Your mileage may vary. Know that USPS reserves the right to inspect any package that's shipped through media mail to ensure that the service is not being abused. Use your best judgment. 

International Shipping

So, international shipping is going to be a doozy no matter what. One of the main problems is that Kickstarter accounts for shipping as part of your total pledge goal. That means even if you correctly estimate shipping for different regions, international orders will inevitably shrink your margins because while the fundraising target may be the same, a disproportionate and unconsidered amount will go towards shipping internationally. Yaay. 

Still, it's just something you have to deal with. It sucks for us as creators, but it probably sucks even more for our international backers. They'll typically be among your higher backers because of shipping, and it's nice seeing that people from different places believing in your project. 

For Mythopoeia, we're a bit lucky in that Vince and I are based out of different parts of the world. I mean overall it's a net negative when it comes to working, but for shipping it's definitely a plus! Because Vince is in London, he handles all of the European and African orders we get (we haven't gotten an order from Africa yet), while I handle NA/SA/AustralAsia. 

To save costs, we'll ship a portion of the books directly to London from a printer. Unfortunately, we didn't properly account for merchandise shortages this second Kickstarter, and so I had to ship two international packages directly to Vince so he could fulfill the rest of his orders. That costed a lot of money... less than if I had to ship all the international orders, but still a decent amount.

Then something else happened. Because we were afraid of the merchandise getting lost, I stupidly bought a high amount of insurance on the packages I sent to Vince. The Royal Mail Service saw the purported value of the packages and asked Vince to pay a high VAT tax. He had to do it... it delayed European shipping by several more days, and in the end we probably spent as much money on European shipping as had I decided to ship it from here in sunny Los Angeles. The tax man got us, and he got us good. 

So advice for international shipping? Not much, because we haven't figured it out yet, either :). 


Final Installment: Lessons Learned, Things We Would do Differently 

Part I: Continuing an Ongoing Series

Part II: Research, Analytics, & Advertising

Part III: Digital vs. Offset Printing

If you found this information helpful please be sure to check our comic, Skies of Fire. If you're already a fan, don't forget to sign up for our mailing listfollow us on twitter, and like us on facebook

Thanks all!
- Ray and Vince 
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