NNA opposes forced ‘full-service’ mail tracking barcodes proposal

Benefits to community newspapers from the U.S. Postal Service’s proposed mandatory use of a “full-service” Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) are meager and do not justify the substantial investment in the technology, the National Newspaper Association told the Postal Service Monday.

USPS is considering a new requirement for the use of a full-service IMb after January 2014 for newspapers that want to claim automation mail processing discounts. NNA’s Postal Committee Chair Max Heath has long questioned the value of the full-service IMb, which attaches an individual identifier to each newspaper. USPS wants these tracking codes on the mail so it can measure service and provide data back to mailers, such as address changes.

But the software and implementation can be tricky for a smaller newspaper, Heath told USPS. Much larger mailers with information technology departments have struggled with the installations and training, he said.

Community newspapers are already facing a January 2013 requirement to upgrade to a simpler IMb, which codes in certain mailer information but does not track individual mailpieces. NNA’s objection is to requiring a second upgrade, which USPS once said would be forever optional but now wishes to require for all mail.

Heath detailed the reasons for newspapers’ lack of enthusiasm for the more sophisticated IMb.

The technology’s most useful data are provided by scanning each mailpiece as it travels through mail processing equipment. But much newspaper mail is handled manually, so scans would elude most NNA members’ mail.

Although receiving data on some long distance newspaper mail might be useful if scans were successful, most community newspaper mail is entered into and delivered from the local delivery unit. Newspapers do not need scans to know where their mail is, Heath said.

USPS has provided some smaller mailer tools for using IMb, such as an online mailing statement application, but these do not provide the full panoply of work-sharing discounts that NNA has earned over the years for its members. So to get a small automation discount, NNA members would have to abandon their current software that programs much greater discounts.

Heath and Brad Hill, general manager of Interlink, produced formal comments to the USPS proposal. Both represent NNA on the USPS Mailers Technical Advisory Committee and provide NNA member assistance through the Postal Committee.

NNA President Merle Baranczyk said that NNA’s Postal Committee faced a busy year of assistance to members as the first IMb upgrade hits the industry in January. He said he hoped NNA’s comments would persuade USPS that requiring the second upgrade would not be cost effective for NNA or the Postal Service. He urged newspapers to maintain their membership in good standing so they would receive NNA information and assistance when needed.

“NNA questions whether USPS really wants to be able to track long-distance newspaper mail in the detail it is currently considering,” Baranczyk said. “Our experience is that the long-distance delivery is pretty bad and getting worse. Whether the institution wants to fly a banner over that performance is questionable, given the challenges ahead of more mail processing facility closures. Certainly neither NNA members nor USPS ought to sink money into a tracking system that provides no useful information. We would rather consider solutions that get the mail delivered on time.”