By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary
An impending change by the U.S. Postal Service from its PostNet barcode to the new Intelligent Mail barcode has some newspaper owners concerned.
Brad Hill, who is one of the National Newspaper Association’s representatives on the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, recently presented a webinar hosted by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and NNA, where he outlined the coming change and answered questions about how the change will affect community newspapers. Hill has been with Interlink, a mail software company, for 10 years.
The coming change, he said, “will affect everyone one way or another.”
He noted that the postal barcode is there to help newspaper mailers claim automation discounts. This IMb, he added, is not the same thing as the retail barcode some newspapers utilize so their papers can be sold in stores. Those Universal Product Codes are available through the Uniform Code Council.
The automation discounts will lower the postage rate for a piece of mail. Barcodes are used so mail can run on automated flat sorting equipment. And even though a newspaper might not actually be put on an automated sorting machine, Hill said, the newspaper can still claim the discount.
The PostNet barcode is still current, but that changes in January. The reason the USPS is switching to the newer barcode, Hill said, is because it contains more information and will allow the mail to be tracked, with an end-goal of improving delivery times.
The old PostNet barcode has only two bar heights and will soon be retired by the USPS. The newer IMb has four bar heights and can hold more information, and it will go into effect Jan. 28, 2013. If newspapers want to continue to claim automation discounts, they must switch to the new IMb, Hill said.
The USPS wants to use IMb for end-to-end tracking for measuring and improving service standards. The new barcode will also provide linkage to USPS’ Address Change Service.
In order to obtain the IMb, newspapers will have to have a PostalOne! account, available through the Postal Service’s Business Customer Gateway. There are two IMb levels available. Full service and basic. Hill focused on the basic, because that is what most newspapers will be using.
Newspapers that send Standard Mail pieces and decide against moving to IMb, Hill said, will need to transfer numbers from Part D of their PS Form 3602 Postage Statement to Part E.
Also, Carrier Route Mail is exempt from IMb, because it is already bundled for the carrier and does not have to be resorted.
“Because CR mail does not need a barcode it wastes time and ink to print a barcode on these pieces,” he said.
Hill said automation discounts could save newspapers thousands annually.
What to barcode?
- Periodical and Standard Mail
- 5-digit or coarser sort 3-digit SCF, ADC, etc.
- Not Carrier Route Basic (CAR-RT)
- Not Carrier route High Density (CAR-WSH)
- Not Carrier Route Saturation (CAR-WSS)
Basic vs. Full-Service
IMb with full service may look the same as the basic IMb, but they do different things, he said.
Basic level: requires compatible software, capable printing equipment and a mailer ID. This will fully satisfy the January requirements to claim automation rates, he added.
Full Service: Requires a unique serial number requirement that would assign a tracking code to each mail piece.
“The Postal Service proposed to make it a requirement (by January 2014), but that may change.” NNA is opposed to this requirement for newspapers. “There is little benefit in this today … for newspapers to make the transition to full service,” Hill said.
Benefits for basic: automation rates, indication of service request method for ACS, no longer required to be elsewhere on the mail piece.
Full service benefits: per-piece discount one-tenth of a cent for standard and periodical mail. Free start the clock for tracing and tracking information.
Hill said there is little interest by community newspapers in the tracking feature, but that may be because of the cost of full-service IMb.
He suggests implementing Basic IMb now. And then watch for full-service requirements and recommendations from NNA, INF and other associations and vendors.
Printing the new labels
A number of the participants attending the webinar were concerned about whether their current printers could handle printing the IMb.
He said a dot matrix printer could print the IMb if it has the right fonts, but there isn’t a printer on the market that does. Printing in graphics mode on dot matrix printers is an option with software support, but it may increase print time by up to 300 percent.
Check specifications for the size of the label. You may not actually need a new size.
Compatible software must be able to generate the IMb coding and be compatible with your printing equipment. Some DOS-based applications may have issues printing the new labels.
Barcode size: Needs larger than 3-inch wide label. No margin for error. Maximum width is 3.475 inches. This includes clear space to left and right of barcode. The height is actually a little smaller than current label.
Every mail owner will need a Mailer ID. Use the 9-digit not the 6-digit ID, he said. Go through USPS to get the Mailer ID.
Obtaining a Gateway Account
First, go to gateway.usps.com (sign up for new account for Mailer ID) get the 9-digit ID, which is good for most newspapers.
Request Mailer ID from Design & Prepare section. The CRID is not the same as Mailer ID. The Full/basic service box is the only one you have to check on Mailer ID program option details. Then select Auto-generate Mailer ID.
With 20 papers you may need more than one Mailer ID. Assign three to four newspapers per ID. USPS recommends one Mailer ID per 10 million pieces mailed annually.
Basic IMb is included at no additional costs from most vendors. Check with them first. For full service IMb, it could cost thousands and varies from vendor to vendor.
IMb can only work with addresses having known ZIP + 4 and delivery point, which can come off the USPS website.
- IMb contains about four times more information than PostNet.
- Current PostNet barcode no longer eligible for automation rates as of Jan. 28, 2013.
- IMb required on all mailpieces claiming automation rates on/after Jan. 28.
- Basic IMb compliance fully satisfies new requirements for automation rates.
- No requirements under Basic IMb for barcodes on trays, sacks, etc. Full-service IMb not required, offers additional benefits, substantial increase in requirements to comply.
- Even if interested in full-service, begin making the move to Basic IMb now.
To get a Mailer ID
- Sign into the Gateway
- Cick the Mailer ID under the Design & Prepare section
- If you already have an MID, it will show on the screen under the Mailer ID Summary.
- Then click the Request a Mailer ID (MID)
- Then Choose the 9 Digit from the dropdown and enter 1 for number to request.
The differences between the PostNet barcode and the Intelligent Mail barcode are subtle.