Full-Service IMb made mandatory Jan. 2014
June 5, 2013
NNA objections led to some concessions
By Max Heath
The Postal Service plowed ahead, no doubt running over some small mailers, in deciding to implement the mandatory “Full-Service” Intelligent Mail Barcode, effective Jan. 26, 2014, when the next postage price increases are to happen.
The National Newspaper Association fought hard to resist the mandatory IMb in order to get Automation Barcode discounts. In the end, we got some concessions. But USPS was on a mission to implement this project, mostly for its own internal benefit, over the objections of newspapers and small mailing shops and their customers.
The key takeaway from NNA’s success in pushing back, though, was contained in NNA’s news release to members April 16. Here are the improvements:
Mailings of fewer than 10,000 copies per issue will not need to comply with the requirement to assign individually unique piece numbers in the barcode to every copy in the mailing. Instead, software can assign just one “serial” number, used for each piece in the entire mailing.
Mailings of fewer than 10,000 copies per issue may submit their postage statement through the Postal Wizard at the Business Customer Gateway into PostalOne! (the USPS business mail accounting system).
That said, NNA still believes that software vendors should provide Mail.XML or Mail.dat programming to allow electronic transmission of the postage statement and USPS Qualification Report. Mail.dat is uploaded using a tool provided by USPS, whereas Mail.XML is sent directly to PostalOne! from your software. Either saves lots of time and minimizes errors that may come back to haunt the newspaper.
For newspapers that print other newspapers, the identification of the “mail owner” (read “newspaper”) will not be required when mailing fewer than 5,000 pieces. It’s not clear how much advantage this is for newspapers and their printers, though it continues to be a requirement for mail-sorting outfits that handle bulk mail for others—and could affect a newspaper that uses a sorting bureau for non-periodicals mail
The benefits of IMb are mostly to the Postal Service, which will use it to measure service success. USPS also says the IMb will enable it to claim efficiencies by understanding where the mail is in the pipeline. But with its currently rigid staffing rules, it isn’t clear how those efficiencies will materialize.
For the mailers, NNA is still dubious that the benefits will match the costs of implementation for many newspapers. But there are some benefits of the Full-Service IMb that we must share:
• Primary will be free electronic address change service that will allow newspapers to avoid multiple yellow-tagged hardcopy address changes for the same address at 55 cents per copy (though the DMM allows a refund on all but one if properly presented).
• Tracking of delivery. This will be of value—over time—mainly for distant addresses where problems have been hard to solve for many years. USPS wants to use Full-Service IMb to track mail through the system as a diagnostic tool to allow it to solve problems.
There are two problems with both of these: The mailer has to bear the expense of the new tracking system by buying or upgrading software, and newspapers must really be scanned on flat-sorting equipment for USPS to be able to give back that delivery tracking. But most newspapers are not sorted by machine, so the possible “hit” from the scan will elude us for some time to come.
NNA is hopeful that container scans may be useful in reading tray numbers assigned by software to show when the sack or tray (preferably) was handled at a specific processing plant closest to the recipient.
TECH CREDIT MAY HELP
One dubious benefit offered by USPS last year in response to continuing mailer objections to costs of implementing Full-Service IMb is a so-called “tech credit” to be refunded to mailers PostalOne! accounts when properly-prepared mailings reach a certain level.
The credit is offered from June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2014 and is termed a “promotion.” It would offer:
• $2,000 postage credit for mailers of 125,001-500,000 “qualifying” pieces from Oct. 1, 2011, through Sept. 30, 2012 (the last postal fiscal year).
• $3,000 credit for 500,000-2,000,000 qualifying pieces.
• $5,000 credit for more than 2 million qualifying pieces.
Mailers who qualify to receive the tech credit will receive a notification letter from the Postal Service.
The problem is that many community newspapers, especially weeklies, mail fewer than 125,000 pieces over 12 months, (a little more than 2,400 copies per issue). NNA has requested the addition of a new, lower threshold of $1,000 credit for mailers of 62,500 to 125,000 pieces.
USPS Marketing, which is handling the “promotion,” was not initially open to that, saying the filing of this request at the Postal Regulatory Commission will not be resubmitted. NNA is continuing to push for the addition.
The tech credit request has taken on a life of its own, with mailer opposition since it was presented in its PRC filing as a plan to take the money away in the next rate filing by raising the “market dominant” rates over the price cap. The PRC may not approve the credits.
HOW DO I ACCOMPLISH THIS?
Newspapers must depend on their software vendors to figure out how to meet the minimum requirements at lowest possible cost. Talk to your vendor immediately about its progress on meeting these requirements. NNA is strongly encouraging vendors to provide Mail.XML to send mailing info electronically, rather than having publishers forced to do laborious manual entry into the Postal Wizard.
CAN I AFFORD IT?
That depends. Because carrier-routed mail, especially when entered at the office of delivery, gains no value from IMb, you have to compare loss of barcode savings on other pieces to the cost to implement, both initial and any ongoing cost.
It now appears that some software vendors will provide these services for no additional cost other than the annual charge for the software package. Whether that may require price hikes for the annual fees remains to be seen. But USPS is clearly trying to push the industry in this direction, so other mandates and embellishments are likely to be ahead.
Encourage your vendor to avoid wasting print time and ink on labels that are carrier-route sorted. Standard Mail shoppers, especially, are near 100 percent carrier-route mailings entered at DDU, thus the IMb provides no value.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?
Brad Hill, NNA’s MTAC rep and president of Interlink software, will soon present a webinar via the Online Media Campus. Watch for info on that. Brad leads NNA’s technical “interface” with USPS, and his work is responsible for most of the relaxation to proposed requirements made in the final announcement in April. He’ll tailor the webinar to newspapers, whereas USPS information tends to be more generic or applicable to large mailers. © Max Heath 2013
MAX HEATH, NNA Postal chair, is a postal consultant for Publishing Group of America (American Profile, Relish, & Spry) and Landmark Community Newspapers, LLC. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.