USPS indefinitely suspends IMb requirement; Benefits for electronic documentation remain

From National Newspaper Association

The U.S. Postal Service on Dec. 27 notified the mailing industry that the requirement to use the Full Service Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) to qualify for automation discounts after January 2014 has been indefinitely suspended.

USPS was ordered by the Postal Regulatory Commission in December to either suspend the IMb requirement or to adjust its annual cost-of-living postage increase to subtract the extra cost to mailers. USPS elected to keep its postage increase. The Dec. 27 notice is its official word that it has no current plans to reinstate the requirement.

NNA Postal Committee Chair Max Heath said NNA welcomes the suspension of the requirement, but continues to encourage its members to consider use of the IMb software so they can take advantage of electronic documentation.

“NNA opposed the imposition of a requirement from the beginning. The use of Intelligent Mail Barcodes will be of little use in our industry until the Postal Service is much further into its development of digital tracking. But the hidden benefit from the IMb requirement is that USPS in tandem with the IMb requirement finally got its mail.xml portal set up so typical newspaper industry software could electronically connect with USPS databases. For the first time, for our smaller newspapers, there is a capability to do electronic filing. The benefits to that are substantial, both in convenience to the mailer and in cost reductions in handling our mail by USPS,” he said.

At present, newspapers still have to provide a marked copy with their mailing statements to verify advertising ratios. However, Heath said, projects are underway at USPS to change marked copy filing rules: to allow for an electronic version or permit publishers to keep marked copies on file rather submitting them with each mailing.

NNA President Robert M. Williams Jr., publisher of the Blackshear (GA) Times, said NNA welcomes new opportunities to make mail more convenient with digital tools and also prefers to allow mailers to be driven by their own incentives to make the conversions.

“In time, our industry will find good reason to move toward digital filings. USPS in the long run will be able to provide some tracking of our mail through the systems using IMb, which will help us to diagnose serious service problems. But neither we, nor they, are there yet. The prudent business decision is to allow this process to evolve through best practices.”

More detail on the IMb decision and its implications is included in Heath’s Postal Tips in the January Publishers’ Auxiliary.