USPS touts barcodes to newspapers


By Max Heath
National Newspaper Association

Newspapers and other mailers have been getting calls from their district office of Business Mail Acceptance asking them to convert to Full-Service Intelligent Mail barcodes.

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.

But now that it is not mandatory, NNA is seeing positive developments that make it easier to rec­ommend Full-Service for its members.

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.

As a refresher, IMb is a barcode intended to give USPS full visibility of where each mail piece is once it is entered into the system through the time of delivery.

To accomplish that, each mail piece needs a barcode that contains information about the mailer, the mail preparer, the destination ZIP code and an individual identifier for each piece. USPS scans that barcode as the mail piece races through various automated sorting and transportation systems. 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.

Development of tray and bundle barcodes 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.

“USPS does not track newspaper delivery and won’t until we can find some way to get into the digital systems fueled by IMb,” Rush said.

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 makes it possible for USPS to electronically “see” when mail shows up at a deliv­ery office or processing plant.

Free electronic address change notices 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 is a big step forward for commu­nity newspapers.

An existing Electronic Product Fulfill­ment website ( 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  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.

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.

Max Heath is postal chair­man for the National News­paper Association and a postal consultant for Athlon Media.