Increase circulation with mail sampling, and sell extra advertising as a bonus
November 2, 2015
Using lowest in-county rates available
By Max Heath
An increase in calls and emails on sampling questions in recent weeks and months caused me to update this topic on the value of sending sample copies to nonsubscribers using your 10 percent in-county “sampling” entitlement.
The nonsubscriber rules in the Domestic Mail Manual are there to allow you to promote your newspaper to nonsubscribers and increase your mail delivery. Too many papers fail to use this tactic.
Print subscriptions now compete with our own websites, electronic subscriptions, and other free news and information sites. Some readers of free shoppers with news think that it’s the newspaper. It’s no exaggeration to say that we have to work much harder to increase circulation, or just stay even, in paid subscribers these days.
Some papers have had success sampling a route or two at a time for two to four issues. Others choose to sample an entire ZIP code or the entire county. But either way, sampling addressed pieces to 90 percent of the active residential addresses, or 75 percent of all addresses, on in-county routes earns you a low 3.5-cent Saturation piece price. That compares to a 6.8-cent piece price for Basic (6-124 pieces per route) in-county mail, saving you nearly half of the per-copy piece price.
You can also mail unaddressed Saturation so long as 100 percent of Active Residential or Total Active deliveries are provided copies. See below.
Include a good offer to subscribe or renew in each sample copy. For those worried about offending current subscribers, make the offer two-tiered, with a higher discount level for new subscribers, and another, lower one for renewals. A single-sheet flyer with coupon pulls more response than ROP ads.
The more in-county subscriber copies you can build and retain, the greater your sampling privilege is to sample at in-county rates in the future, without paying outside-county rates for nonsubscriber copies sent above the 10 percent rule.
Review of postal sampling rules
Domestic Mail Manual 22.214.171.124 specifies that in-county eligible newspapers can mail 10 percent of the in-county subscriber copies in a calendar year to nonsubscribers using the low in-county rates. To estimate your entitlement, add the Subscriber Copies column, lines A1/A2 of your 3541 Postage Statement. Multiply times the number of issues in a year, and take 10 percent of that.
For example, a weekly with 3,500 average in-county mail subscriber copies can send 18,200 copies to nonsubscribers at in-county rates (3,500 X 52 = 182,000 X .10 = 18,200) in a year. Double that for a twice weekly. A five-day mailed daily earns 91,000 non-subscriber copies at in-county rates under that formula.
You may use the “simplified address” of “Residential Customer” (DMM 602.3.1.b) when sampling rural or city routes. Some software vendors provide electronic CDS (Computerized Delivery Sequence) files giving all addresses in a ZIP.
Newspapers are not required to duplicate subscriber copies when using simplified address saturation mail, nor when mailing addressed copies to nonsubscribers. Also, when sampling infrequently, a single issue can mail more non-subscriber copies than subscriber copies. (See Customer Support Ruling PS-228 at Postal Explorer website.) Simplified address copies do not technically count as subscriber copies.
But remember that a newspaper cannot consistently mail more than 50 percent of its total distribution free. Those wishing to sample above the 10 percent in-county rate ceiling pay regular carrier-route prices of 15 cents for Saturation on Line C33 of the 3541, plus 12.6 cents per advertising pound and 9.3 cents non-advertising pound at DDU lines B1 and B14 when entered at DDUs (delivery offices).
The copies should be co-mingled as part of the regular issue, not a separate mailing. Both pound prices are lower than when I last wrote about this in July 2010, and they now compare favorably to the 16-cent DDU pound price In-county.
USPS provides a Periodicals Nonsubscriber Percentage Calculator at Postal Explorer (http://pe.usps.gov). Click on Postal Links in the upper left of the blue vertical toolbar, then scroll to the last item in that section for the Excel spreadsheet. This helps you track your In-County price eligibility and know when to switch to Regular prices when needed.
Requester rules are identical, allowing 10 percent more copies to non-requesters to try to increase the requested total or reach more of the market. Only requested copies earn in-county price.
Always promote subscriptions!
Remember, you should always have at least a one-column ad (think vertical coupon) in every issue of your newspaper and shopper, if you have one. And when space permits, larger ads or single-copy inserts are ideal, especially when a big news story ensures purchases of single copies by people who are not “regulars.”
when you sample
You can also increase ad revenue when sampling your entire market at once. Your market may be an entire county or the primary ZIPs inside the county that you serve. With advertising slow in this weak economy, you need to provide your advertisers and potential advertisers a reason to spend their scarce dollars. What better way than to provide them total-market coverage in a paid news product?
Some papers have known this for years and have built both circulation and advertising with monthly sampling, often tied to the issue nearest the start of a new month when government paychecks are in the hands of residents on fixed incomes. While sampling this often usually results in several issues mailed at outside-county Saturation price, it can still pay off if revenue growth is strong enough.
A newspaper group that has made sampling for revenue growth a primary goal has seen papers increase more than 100 percent in per-issue ad dollars, with many papers up 50-70 percent. An average for one month of those sampling averaged more than 30 percent increases. Variables include the depth of economic difficulty locally, the commitment and execution by sales reps, and the date picked, such as seasonal or local retail occasions.
Some newspapers bump ad rates higher, although others offer local merchants the opportunity to reach every household at existing rates. Some with shoppers allow the sample to replace an issue of the shopper, saving Standard Mail postage, as well. © Max Heath 2015
MAX HEATH, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media Group, publisher of Parade, American Profile, Relish and Spry newspaper supplements, and also for Landmark Community Newspapers LLC. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.