Be ready for postal bar code changes

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By Stanley Schwartz
Publishers’ Auxiliary

An impending change by the U.S. Postal Service from its PostNet bar code to the new Intelligent Mail bar code has some newspaper owners concerned.

Brad Hill, one of the National Newspaper Association’s representatives on the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, said the change will affect every community newspaper during a recent webinar on the topic.

Hill has been with mail software company Interlink for 10 years and will make a presentation at HSPA’s upcoming Annual Meeting Feb. 8.

He noted that the postal bar code helps newspaper mailers claim automation discounts.

The Intelligent Mail bar code, or IMb, is not the same thing as the retail bar code some newspapers utilize so their papers can be sold in stores, he said. Those Universal Product Codes are available through the Uniform Code Council.

Automation discounts lower the postage rate for a piece of mail. Bar codes 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, the newspaper can still claim the discount, Hill said.

The Postal Service is switching to the newer bar code because it contains more information and will allow mail to be tracked, with an end-goal of improving delivery times, he said.

The old PostNet bar code has only two bar heights and will be retired by the Postal Service.

The newer IMb has four bar heights and can hold more information. It will go into effect Jan. 28.

If newspapers want to continue to claim automation discounts, they must switch to the new IMb, Hill said.

The Postal Service wants to use IMb for end-to-end tracking for measuring and improving service standards.

The new bar code will also provide linkage to the Postal Service’ address-change service.

In order to obtain an IMb, newspapers need a PostalOne account, available through the Postal Service’s Business Customer Gateway.

Two IMb levels are available – full service and basic.

Hill’s webinar focused on the basic option, which most newspapers will use.

Newspapers that send Standard Mail pieces and don’t use IMb will need to transfer numbers from Part D of their PS Form 3602 Postage Statement to Part E, Hill said.

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 bar code it wastes time and ink to print a bar code on these pieces,” he said.

Hill said automation discounts could save newspapers thousands annually.

What to bar code?

• 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.

Basic level: Requires compatible software, capable printing equipment and a mailer ID. This will fully satisfy the January requirements to claim automation rates, Hill said.

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,” Hill said.

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. Then watch for full-service requirements and recommendations from NNA, INF and other associations and vendors.

Printing 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.

Bar code size: It needs to be larger than a 3-inch-wide label. With no margin for error, the maximum width is 3.475 inches. This includes clear space to the left and right of the bar code. The height is a little smaller than the current label.

Every mail owner will need a Mailer ID. Use the 9-digit ID, not the 6-digit. Go through the U.S. Postal Service to get the ID number.

Obtaining a Gateway account

• Go to gateway.usps.com, and 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.

• Publishers may need more than one Mailer ID. The Postal Service recommends one Mailer ID per 10 million pieces mailed annually. If applicable, assign three to four newspapers per ID.

• Basic IMb is included at no additional costs from most vendors. Check with them first. For full-service IMb, it could cost thousands of dollars and varies from vendor to vendor.

• IMb can only work with addresses having a known ZIP + 4 and delivery point.