A little label should make a big difference

If you’re among our more observant readers, you may have noticed something different on this week’s front page — a tiny change we hope will lead to huge improvements in how quickly and accurately the Postal Service delivers your paper.

At considerable expense, we’ve purchased and installed a new, top-of-the-line labeling system, designed to make maximal use of computerized mail sorting. Having a barcode on out-of-town subscribers’ mailing labels isn’t new. We’ve been using an older style barcode for years. We switched to a new style when the Postal Service did a few weeks ago. What’s different is that we’ve greatly improved the legibility of the labels and barcodes themselves — all in an effort to eliminate any and all excuses for anything other than prompt, reliable delivery.

The new labels are among dozens of changes we have made in an attempt to eke every possibly delivery advantage out of a Postal Service system that makes IRS tax returns look simple. Short of hiring someone to accompany each letter carrier and hand him or her each subscriber’s copy of the paper as the carrier approaches the subscriber’s mailbox, we’ve done everything we can. It’s now up to the Postal Service. Both we — and you — should be watching to make sure each issue arrives as it should.

For us, mailing isn’t just a matter of investing in labeling equipment and spending several thousand dollars on postage each month. Our papers have to be mailed in an extremely precise order, sorted not just by ZIP code or even ZIP+4 but in the exact order in which each letter carrier nationwide completes his or her route. That means we have to subscribe to a costly computerized service that every week certifies our entire mailing list. We then have to spend many hours each Wednesday bundling, bagging, and boxing papers and delivering them to multiple locations in a dizzying array of specialized containers, for which we also are charged.

When we complained in an editorial Feb. 5 that our papers — especially those mailed to or from ZIP codes beginning with 67 — were showing up in bizarre order, often many weeks late if they arrived at all, we were greeted by the type of response you might expect when you criticize a government agency: The Postal Service raised our rates, denying us a discount for using so-called Intelligent Mail barcodes because they were one-sixteenth of an inch too close to the edge of our labels and weren’t crisp enough to be read by a machine that, within the problematic 67xxx ZIP codes, the Postal Service admits it never uses when sorting newspapers.

Despite such sometimes nonsensical regulations, local postal officials have actually been incredibly helpful to us, and we’ve had pleasant and productive chats with regional officials, as well. Even with a raft of changes, we’ve still been having problems, however. As this, our March 12 issues, go to press, the Jan. 22, Feb. 26, and March 5 issues of the Hillsboro Star-Journal and the March 5 issue of the Marion County Record still have not reached this subscriber’s address in Illinois. At least five times since Jan. 1, older issues of the same paper have arrived long after — sometimes weeks after — newer issues have arrived.

We still don’t understand why the Postal Service makes publishers jump through so many labeling and bundling hoops to get publications to subscribers who pay to receive them while at the same time allowing junk mailers to just dump wads of unlabeled, unrequested stuff at post offices for almost immediate delivery. Top regional officials tell us it’s to make money off junk mail so the Postal Service can afford to pay for things like Saturday mail and delivery to rural mailboxes.

We wonder, however, whether all the attention paid to generating revenue off junk mail isn’t diverting attention from the real reason the Postal Service exists — to deliver mail to people who actually want and pay for it. Amid all the unimportant services the government pays to subsidize, we can’t help but wonder why an important service like mail has to pay its own way by accepting and in fact encouraging junk mail.

Still, with our new crisper and cleaner labels and the dozens of other changes we’ve made, we now can put the system to the test. The Postal Service’s own standards (https://ribbs.usps.gov/modernservicestandards/ssmaps/find_map.cfm) specify no longer than two to three days to deliver a newspaper from here to almost everywhere within Kansas and no more than four days to deliver it to the middle two-thirds of the United States. Assuming you actually get this paper in the mail, let’s see whether our changes help make this a reality.

— ERIC MEYER

Quantcast