USPS rule set to protect self-mailers from machine damage

Envelope-free letters — so-called “folded self-mailers” — now account for 20% to 30% of all letters in the United States, according to the US Postal Service, and are continuing to grow in popularity. But while direct marketeers love the low costs, high visibility and opportunities for creativity that folded self-mailers offer, for the Postal Service they can mean machine jams and damage to mailpieces.

A new set of guidelines to avoid problems has been in the works for some years, but now looks likely to see the light of day this summer, with a final rule to be published in the Federal Register in the fall.

Updating the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee in Washington DC yesterday, USPS manager of operational requirements Krista Finazzo said as well as reducing damage and delays, the new specifications would help save processing costs.

“We have had to divert items to the flats processing operations to avoid machine jams, and flats are 13 times more costly to process than the letter stream,” she said. “We need to address this problem.”

Drawing up the guidelines for folded self-mailers has been a balance between the need to improve processing and the freedom for advertisers to innovate in direct mail.

The proposed standard is likely to be based on items having maximum dimensions of six by 10.5 inches, a weight up to three ounces and a 70-pound paper basis weight. Newsprint with a 55-pound paper basis weight would be allowed if using a quarter-fold design.

Finazzo said the proposal out this summer would likely recommend the fold being on the bottom of a mailpiece, with the flap or closure on top on the non-address side.

There will be requirements on designs like die-cut windows in items, which are particularly problematic in being caught and damaged in processing machines.

The USPS manager said once a final rule is published in the fall, the requirements would most likely become effective around July next year.

“If you can adapt early then wonderful,” she said. “We don’t anticipate the final rule being effective until summer of 2012.”

Standards for letter-sized booklets were updated in September 2009, but will be updated again very soon to take into account lessons learned looking at folded self-mailers, Finazzo added.

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