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As difficult as it is to make sense out of postal delivery patterns, there are actions you can take to speed up and monitor deliveries.

As constant and fruitless as complaints about the weather are publishers' and mailers' frustrations with postal delivery patterns--or lack thereof. Some publishers have recently complained about the slowness of even First Class mail--three to five days in some cases.

Periodicals rate (formerly 2nd Class) mailings have also left some publishers disgruntled about the dependability of timely delivery.

For example, Mark Eversman of Paris Notes recently switched from Periodicals rate to a self-mailer shipped 1st Class. In his Editor's Letter in the February issue, Mark explains he was driven to distraction by the irregular deliveries experienced using the Periodicals rate. He said that his personal copy, mailed about a mile from his home, varied in delivery from the next day to two weeks.

Complaints to USPS yielded him zippo. (On that note, please see Marcus Smith's comments below.)

An aside: Eversman's switch to 1st Class and a growing reliance on electronic delivery have opened up the international market to him. Last fall he told NL/NL, "I've never marketed internationally because the damn arcane rules of USPS prevent a 2nd Class permit publication from sending my overseas subscribers issues via 1st Class" (NL/NL 10/18/04 Publisher's Profile).

Now he's going to market more aggressively on the internet, with subsequent delivery via either 1st Class or online.

"An electronic edition opens up a whole new market for me: the entire rest of the world. There are 800 million people in India; I know 100 or 200 of them would like more information about Paris."

The key to doing something about postal delivery performance

Regarding postal delivery performance, Marcus J. Smith, publisher of Postal World told us, "Everything is so anecdotal.

"The key to doing something about postal delivery performance is data--solid data and a proactive approach. PLANET code can be an integral part of that effort--the advantage, your real subscribers are your seeds.

In other words, complain to USPS not with anecdotes but with actual data that they will respond to.

Smith continued, "PLANET (Postal Alpha Numeric Encoding Technique) Codes are used to provide USPS CONFIRM service. This gives online tracking of mail as far downstream as the delivery office.

"The system works best for lettersize mail. The PLANET Code is applied above the address block and the postnet below. It may be used on a statistically valid sampling of pieces, or all pieces, or only those to areas you suspect are getting poor service. You may subscribe directly through USPS, but this is likely too costly.

"Contact your list service bureau or seed service for help or see https://mailtracking.usps.com/mtr/resources/confirm/confirmLaunch.pge.

These are some vendors (no endorsement intended or implied):

* www.trackmymail.com

* http://www.unimailcorp.com/planet.html

* http://www.bccsoftware.com/prodserv/mus/wheresmymail.asp

"Search the web for 'USPS CONFIRM' or 'PLANET CODE' for more," Smith advised.

"Also," he said, "those of you who use the Periodical Rate should check out ePubWatch at

* http://www.usps.com/ncsc/addresservices/addressquality services/epubwatch.htm.

Cheap tricks

Smith also revealed a couple of "tricks" for cheaply tracking delivery times.

* With a 5-digit or finer tray, put in one piece of Delivery Confirmation (must use a small box piece) in the tray. That will give you a record when the entire box is opened for delivery.

* Similarly, in a 5-digit or finer tray insert a postcard with an identifying code number and live postage addressed to yourself. On the back write, "Dear Letter Carrier, Please mail this postcard as soon as you see it."

"Then you have a cancellation mark on the stamp indicating just when the postal carrier received your mail to deliver," Smith said.

"Many letter carriers may not cooperate, trashing the postcard instead, but it's worth the effort. Plus, it's a very cheap way of seeding."

RELATED ARTICLE: "Everything is so anecdotal"

It's true that regarding postal delivery performance, "Everything is so anecdotal," in the words of Marcus Smith.

Well, I have my own fresh anecdote--and a happy one at that.

Last Tuesday I dropped a 1st Class (not Express or Priority) letter in the drop box at the post office at 5:15 p.m.--a letter addressed to the Director of Communications for the City of Houston informing him he had won an award from us.

The next morning he called me at about 11:00 Eastern time to talk about the award. I asked him if he had read about the award on our website.

He replied, "No, I have your letter right here in front of me." That's about 18 hours from a small town in upstate New York to his desk in Houston.

We were both flabbergasted--but he even more so because he said the City of Houston mailroom typically takes a day or two to distribute the mail. Maximum serendipity.

That experience also underscores, if only anecdotally, Marcus Smith's advice to learn (or have your mailing house learn) just what time of day shipments are trucked to the airport. Missing those shipments by even ten minutes can sometimes delay delivery by 24 hours.--Paul Swift

Postal World, UCG, 11300 Rockville Pike, Ste. 1100, Rockville, MD 20852-3030, 301-287-2204, fax 301-287-2049, msmith@ucg.com

Paris Notes, P.O. Box 15818, North Hollywood, CA 91615, 800-677-9660.
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Title Annotation:Management
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Feb 28, 2005
Words:879
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