Thursday, February 21, 2013

USPS Magazine Weight Verification

We will skip the buzzword “seamless acceptance” because nothing is more frustrating than speaking in code; yet now I sense you pleading, begging to know what this term means, intuitively knowing you will be forced some day to comply or forfeit your first born.

Seamless acceptance is designed to streamline and automate the hand off or induction of business mail (and nonprofit periodicals mail) for verification, payment and induction into the USPS mail stream. Let’s agree to think of it as paperwork reduction except for the actual mail itself (let’s not go crazy after all.)

Usually, a printer's employee alongside a domiciled postal employee eyes print samples for weight verification, four eyes at once, as magazines come off the print run.  Other in-plant methods exist, for example, using the weight of laden pallets minus the tare weight, but let’s stick with the eyeballing small samples example.

Weight is a critical matter in calculating postage.

So too are eyeballs viewing a scale, but the USPS wants to remove their domiciled employees, permanently assigned to a printers plant, and check magazine weights another way, far, far away, by adding this task to the responsibility of plant employees at USPS plants around the country. After all, everything is now connected by computerized accounts, so remote verification is not that difficult.

Verification means confirmation of an original measure, something the printer’s employee will now do alone to determine the postage payment just before magazine are loaded onto pallets and the trucks start rolling.

What will be so difficult when magazine weights are verified in far-flung places? Humidity. Minor variations in trim size. These add up when trying to verify postage for a 100,000 run magazine based on, say, twenty copies weighed in different places. Small measurement variations can amount to big postage when multiplied by 100K.     

That is why this topic came up at the USPS' Mailers Technical Advisory Committee this week. Printers all but stood in line to express how difficult this is going to be, and ask what weight tolerances the USPS will allow. No one, after all, wants to make a stab at claiming the correct postage only to be called out later for a deficiency. Apparently issue weights are a moving target.

So, printers were solicited to participate in a test called, “How much does a magazine mailed from Mid-America weigh in Miami vs. Phoenix?” I bet you are thinking, “Why can’t this just be done in a lab under scientific conditions?” Wise you are. All you would need is a humidifier and a vaporizer.

Most printers define the discussion as how much of a tolerance will the USPS give them on magazine weight verification, and therefor correct postage.  Some argue for certification, i.e. if a printer shows you they can produce the correct weight and postage x times in a row (I’m making this up), give them a pass on any future measured variations.  (I don’t know how well this meets Sarbanes-Oxley).

I see it another way.  Why not have the printer’s employee determine the actual weight. Use that weight, calculated to four decimal points of a pound. Save these copies for the period during which those magazines are in the mail stream and subject to dispersed USPS verification. If the USPS determines there is a weight variation resulting in a postage deficiency (however they reach this conclusion), the printer may produce the primary sample used and together, with the USPS, the original measurement is confirmed or denied. If confirmed, all dispersed measurements become irrelevant, unless differences in product can be determined (inclusion\exclusion of blow-in cards, version differences, etc.) Printers should probably sample various ends of the print run and average them, saving all samples. This way it doesn't matter if humidity-soaked measurements are made elsewhere around the country. What counts is that the original measurement is reproducible. This saves printers of good will from suffering postage deficiencies due to measured sample variation, especially outliers which naturally occur.

Or we can run around like chickens with our heads cut off, worrying about paying more postage if caught with magazine weights over 2 standard deviations as measured in Miami.