Full-Service IMb to soon hold more value for newspapers

October 17, 2014

USPS calling papers, other mailers
to promote its use

By Max Heath
Postal Tips

Newspapers and other mailers have been getting calls from their district office of Business Mail Acceptance asking them to consider converting to Full-Service Intelligent Mail barcode. The U.S. Postal Service withdrew its rate case proposal for mandatory Full-Service IMb in 2014 after the Postal Regulatory Commission ruled it a price increase, affirming the National Newspaper Association’s opposition to making it mandatory. The goal is to get 8 percent signup quota from those contacted by USPS.
But now that it is not mandatory, NNA is seeing positive developments that make it easier to recommend Full-Service for its members in the future. And that is the way it should be. Newspapers and other mailers should be properly incented to use Full-Service IMb, a more complicated step-up in execution, and not forced. Although it is one most presort software vendors are ready for, not every newspaper uses the more expensive mailing methodology.
First, as a refresher, what is the IMb? It is a barcode intended to give USPS full visibility of where each mailpiece is once it is entered into the system, through the time of delivery. To accomplish that visibility, each mailpiece needs a barcode that contains information about the mailer, the mail preparer, the destination ZIP code and an individual identifier for each piece. USPS then scans that barcode as the mailpiece races through various automated sorting and transportation systems—at least in theory. Out of those scans, it achieves a big data look at its system. The participating mailer can get a lot of data back as well.
Brad Hill, one of three reps on the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, along with NNA Chief Executive Officer Tonda Rush, reported promising developments from the last meeting.
1. Development of tray and bundle barcodes is in the works. Because many newspapers are not placed on flat-sorting equipment, the value of the individual piece IMb is questionable. But newspapers need visibility in the sortation system of the Postal Service. Management is going all-in on this system to track and solve delivery problems. We can’t afford to be the only segment not using Full-Service IMb to at least some extent.
Rush pointed out that “USPS does not track newspaper delivery, and won’t until we can find some way to get into the digital systems fueled by IMb.” Although the piece barcode below each delivery address won’t do most of us much good for processing purposes, the scanning of pallets, trays, and bundles—now promised—makes it possible for USPS to “see” electronically when mail shows up at a delivery office or processing plant.
Note that I did not use the term sacks, which are outmoded and expensive to handle. Newspapers and their printers need to get on with the conversion to flats trays, or tubs, and NNA is currently working with USPS on a test of unlidded trays within the SCF of origin, thereby allowing nesting. NNA is also pursuing discounts for tray use because they cost less to handle. They should only be used on mail not entered at delivery offices, which accept unsacked bundles. There is no shortage of flats trays in USPS, despite what you may have heard.
2. Free Electronic Address Change Service for most changes. Instead of getting hard-copy notices when subscribers move, newspapers can get these notices electronically. Currently, only those already using electronic ACS can qualify for the benefit. The change to a free service for most pieces in the IMb system, announced in August, is a big step forward for community newspapers. The IMB on each piece contains the information necessary to send the change notice electronically to each newspaper, Brad explained.
An existing Electronic Product Fulfillment website (epf.usps.gov) will allow newspapers to get electronic address changes for both Full-Service and non-qualifying pieces (5-digit ZIP, etc.) that will not be available through the Business Customer Gateway for eDoc (electronic documentation). And the beauty of this is that electronic ACS is available within 48 hours from scanning. Problems can be fixed before the next issue, depending upon frequency.
The eligibility for free ACS will be based off the eDoc required by Full-Service. Manual address changes should mostly disappear. For the occasional barcode that can’t be scanned, manual correction notices are still necessary, but are provided at a reduced price of 11 cents.
Newspapers have long been burdened by the yellow adhesive stickers for manual address changes coming very, very late for undeliverable mailed papers. Also, multiple copies for the same address often flow in at once at a price of 57 cents each. Though NNA has shared a DMM process for getting a refund for all but one of the duplicates, filing can be a hassle that most papers are no longer staffed to handle.
So, (mostly) free electronic ACS could, over time, recoup the cost of Full-Service IMb. Many presort software vendors are already charging for it as they have built in capabilities to respond to the planned mandatory implementation. Newspapers should contact their vendors for assistance.

Domestic Mail Manual
streamlining underway
The Postal Service has embarked upon a thorough editing of the Domestic Mail Manual, a long-sought goal pushed by current management. NNA has monitored the changes and given input to the process, and decided it should share a few changes with its members.
A key change for newspapers is the renumbering of Periodicals rules from the familiar part 707 to a new part 207 section. Periodicals rules and regulations are unchanged. However, USPS said “we have consolidated information and eliminated redundant language in new part 207 for consistency and to improve flow and ease of use.”
The goal is to reduce the size of the DMM without changing standards contained there. That sounds easier said than done, but turns out a lot of passages are duplicated in various sections. The goal is to eliminate redundancies without doing harm. Most DMM users, frequent or infrequent, will agree that the manual is too big and too complicated.
Periodicals class mailers have the most to lose if that is overdone, because the class has so many special rules to benefit newspapers with the lowest commercial rate in the USPS system.
One note of interest: Part 203, Basic Postage Statement, Documentation, and Preparation, will be updated to include Periodicals-related information.
Like many other documents, the DMM is now online only. Go to Postal Explorer website at http://pe.usps.gov. The DMM is the first entry under the “Domestic Mail” header in red at the center of the page. © Max Heath 2014

Max Heath, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media, publisher of Athlon Sports magazine, American Profile, Relish, and Spry newspaper supplements, and Landmark Community Newspapers, LLC. Email maxheath@lcni.com.

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