Intelligent Mail barcodes: what you need to know

September 10, 2013

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

DES MOINES, IA—The U.S. Postal Service is moving to implement Full-Service Intelligent Mail barcodes (IMb) on Periodicals by Jan. 26. Brad Hill, president of Interlink, a newspaper postal software company, provided information that publishers will need for this transition.

Hill, who is also one of the National Newspaper Association’s representatives on the Mailer’s Technical Advisory Committee, provided the information during a webinar hosted by the Iowa Newspaper Association and the Southern Newspapers Publishers Association.

“Full-Service IMb covers a wide selection of options and technicalities,” Hill said, “some of them specifically for newspapers.”

Not all newspapers will opt for using IMb, he added, but in order to qualify for postage automation discounts, newspapers must use the IMb.

The USPS said it wanted to implement IMb in order to better track mail through its system, from origin to destination. The USPS says it believes it can reduce costs and improve delivery consistency with IMb, which would provide nearly 100 percent visibility of the mail stream. Many newspapers started using the Basic version of IMb at the beginning of 2013 when the older barcode was phased out.

“The Postal Service is not using IMb to improve its delivery timeliness; not the service levels, but just the consistency,” Hill said. By implementing Full-Service, he added, USPS would shift the labor of digital entry of postal information to the mailer.

USPS also wants to speed things up on mail acceptance at post offices through this electronic process, Hill noted. Once a barcode is scanned, all the mailer’s information will come up on the Postal Service employee’s computer screen.

“Full-Service also provides data that is used to determine which processing plants and post offices should be consolidated or closed, and this will enable the Postal Service to cut costs,” Hill said. USPS can also figure out where staff is most needed when this collected data is compared to actual mail volume.

How Full Service affects newspapers

“As of Jan. 26, 2014, only mailings that meet the requirements of Full-Service will be eligible to claim automation rates,” Hill said.

If a newspaper is currently using an IMb, he added, it is getting significant discounts on its postage. But as of Jan. 26 next year, newspapers will have to comply with all the requirements of Full-Service IMb in order to qualify for the reduced rates.

“If that sounds familiar, it’s the same threat we faced in January 2013, when Basic IMb became the requirement,” he said.

For distant delivery, Hill added, that even though most newspapers will not be sorted automatically by machine, they are more likely to be handled properly by postal workers who know the clock is ticking on that mail piece.

When you are Full-Service compliant you will no longer have to pay 55 cents for each change of address notice or copy that was returned as undeliverable. The need for hard copy postage statements will also end.

Hill noted that some publishers worry that if the Postal Service’s system goes down, they would not be able to submit their postage statements.

“The Postal Service has a contingency plan in place for this,” he said. A publisher could also print out the statement and hand-carry it to the post office. One could also wait for the system to come back up and then enter the information.

Newspapers would be able to track their mail pieces, but this only applies to mail that has a Full-Service IMb on the address, not DDU-entered carrier route mail, Hill added.

In addition to placing Full-Service IMb on every address label, there are also new layouts with new barcodes for sacks, trays and containers (pallet, APC, etc.)

“These new labels and placards are unique to each mailing, so you won’t be able to use labels provided by the USPS any more,” he said.

Because of this, you may need new software, Hill explained. Sometimes mailing software can be upgraded, but sometimes it needs to be replaced. He suggests newspaper owners talk with their software vendors to see what they recommend.

Savings and costs for newspapers with IMb

Potential Savings:

• Automation/barcoded postage rates.

• Full-Service piece discount ($0.001/pc.). If you have a lot of mail going out of town, Hill said, this can add up during the course of a year.

• Free ACS (normally $0.55/notice).

• No mailing permit fees. This is a good incentive, he added, more for Standard mail than for Periodicals.

• Stop printing postage statements and qualification reports.

Potential Costs:

• May require a software upgrade. This can range from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, Hill said.

• May require a new printer that is capable of printing the Intelligent Mail barcodes.

If a newspaper is considering not utilizing the Full-Service IMb, Hill suggests doing a cost analysis on what that would cost the newspaper in postage.


Periodical Mail – PS Form 3541

• Part A (In-County).

• Calculate the difference between postage using rows labeled Automation Flats and Nonautomation Flats. By looking at one’s postage statement, Hill said, one can determine if you’re in automation flats.

• Part C (Outside-County).

• Calculate the difference between postage using rows labeled Barcoded and Nonbarcoded. It’s a similar process for outside-county delivery.

Multiply that by the number of issues you mail per year and you will see the savings by using Full-Service IMb.

Standard Mail – PS Form 3602

• Calculate the difference between postage using Part D (Automation Flats) and Part E (Nonautomation Flats). It’s a simple as taking the counts from Part D and transferring them to Part E, he said.

Hill provided a link to Interlink’s website where such calculations could be made automatically. (

Requirements for Full-Service

Newspapers and other mailers that deal with the Postal Service will need to set up a Business Customer Gateway account through PostalOne!

That is where they can obtain a Mailers ID number. Mailers use this to view their postage statements and it provides access to ACS, tracking and other data feeds from USPS.

Compatible software

Most mailing software now has some or all of the pieces necessary to support Full-Service. Besides physically printing the barcode, the most complex requirement is the ability to submit eDoc, where the postal statements are submitted to the post office electronically.

Some of the companies that offer this software are: Vision Data, Satori, Bell & Howell BCC, AccuZip, Interlink and others, Hill said.

Electronic submission of postage documentation (eDoc)

Hill said this is most important for newspapers. There are three options:

• Mail.Dat—A file created by mailing software that is sent to PostalOne! using a special upload tool.

• Mail.XML—A real-time, conversational method of submitting eDoc to PostalOne! through the Internet.

• Postal Wizard—Web-based system that allows mailers to enter each value from a hardcopy postage statement. This option is only available when mailing fewer than 10,000 pieces.

IMb on all address labels

The Full-Service IMb has four bar heights as opposed to the older barcode. A new requirement, Hills said, is the Intelligent Mail tray barcodes on all sacks and tray labels.

You’ll need to print them off from your software, Hill said. The ones from the Postal Service won’t work, because the ones you print are specific to your mailing.

There is also a new barcode label for containers that go on pallets and APC placards.

All Intelligent Mail barcodes must contain a serial number that is unique to that specific mail piece or container, except in mailings of fewer than 10,000 pieces, Hill said.

Unique numbers attached to each piece will be kept in your software database for 45 days and then recycled. The software should keep track of it.  For mailings under 10,000 pieces the same unique number will appear on all 10,000 pieces.. “Talk with your software vendor for more information on this.”

FAST appointments must be scheduled for drop-ship mailings and mailer-transported, origin-entered mail that is verified at a Detached Mail Unit (DMU), he added. But most newspapers enter at the same one or more DDU’s every week and have the equivalent of standing appointments.

But most newspapers enter at the same one or more DDUs every week and have the equivalent of a standing appointment.

Transitioning to Full-Service

If you are already using the Basic IMb, Hill said, transitioning to Full-Service does not have to be that involved.

Step 1: Sign up for a Business Customer Gateway Account:

Step 2: Request an MID. You may need more than one MID depending on mail volume. You need one Mailer ID per 10 million pieces mailed each year.

Step 3: Configure your software. Mailing software needs to know:

• Your Mailer ID (MID)

• Basic or Full-Service

May also need:

• Business Customer Gateway username and password

• Customer Registration ID (CRID)

• Service Type ID (STID)

• Specifies ACS Option

Step 4: Submit a Test of eDoc. TEM—Test Environment for Mailers.

Think of TEM as an alternate version of PostalOne! that can be used for testing purposes.

Confirm that your software is properly configured by submitting eDoc to TEM and checking the results in the Gateway.

This allows you to see what your postage statement would be and compare it against the hard copy before sending it to the Postal Service. There is a help desk available if needed.

Step 5: Confirm ability to print IMb on address labels, sack/tray labels and if necessary pallet placards. Using your own software and printer, print sample address labels, sack/tray labels and pallet placards and take them to your local post office.

All Post Offices will have a scanner that can read Intelligent Mail barcodes.

Contact MDA (Mailpiece Design Analyst) if necessary.

Step 6: Notify your postmaster or BME clerk, just to let him or her know it’s coming.

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