Commentary & Analysis
RPNs and the Quest for Incremental Revenue
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: February 1, 2005
February 1, 2005 Welcome to ODJ's newest column. Each month The Postal Curmudgeon will tell us about the ins and out, the ups and downs, and the indescribable vagaries and machinations of the U.S. Postal System. Suffice it to say, he is a noted expert on mailing services and runs a well-established print-and-mail operation at an undisclosed location in the United States. His identity is being withheld to protect the innocent, the guilty, the whistleblowers, and to ensure that he keeps his mailing permit. -- Noel Ward, Executive Editor -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- For now, just call me Grumpy. I'll be using this monthly opportunity to bring to your attention some of the more "unique" thought processes from our friends and business partners at the U.S. Postal Service. In this episode we'll examine the postal service's interest in repositionable notes. More commonly known as Post-it notes to you and me. A respected industry expert describes the USPS's quest to capitalize on RPNs as "the camel sticking its nose under the tent when it smells something good". It seems that our pals at L'Enfant Plaza (that's postal headquarters in Washington D.C.) spent a number of years working with the good people at 3M who own the right to Post-its. Seems somebody at 3M saw a great opportunity to affix those little yellow suckers onto the outside of letter-sized mail in an effort to increase response rates. At the time 3M broached this idea, the folks at the postal service, faced with steadily declining mail volumes, figured that anything that could increase response rates was good. Increased response rates should equate to increase mail volume. Simple premise right? So after a quite a bit of engineering prowess from the folks at 3M, the postal service approved the notes, now called in postal-ese, RPNs (repositionable notes) for use by the industry. Testing was permitted and no additional charge was assessed by the postal service to the mailers. Seems the folks at 3M were pretty clever to devise a removable adhesive that would stand up to the rigors of the automated postal equipment without flying off during sorting. Many mailers embraced RPNs, some mailing them with static messages while others using print-on-demand technology added personalized messages to each recipient. The notes are applied from a roll using a machine similar to a wafer sealing machine, and can be preprinted as the roll is manufactured, or applied blank and printed using ink-jet equipment as the piece is addressed or using a combination of the two methods. Realizing that mailers are in fact seeing significant results from RPNs the postal service wants to assess a surcharge for this service. A good friend of the Curmudgeon's who is a well-respected industry expert recently described this to me as "the camel sticking its nose under the tent when it smells something good". Though the exact surcharge amounts are not yet known, I've heard numbers like a half cent on First Class mail and 1.5 cents on Standard A and periodical class mail being bandied about on subway cars on DC's famed Metro system. Our industry, through the diligence of a vendor, (3M) has identified and implemented a new way to increase response rates, and now the postal service wants a share of the pie. Not because it costs more to process mail with RPNs, but simply because the postal service figures they can charge for it. If the postal service is permitted to assess this "surcharge" for RPNs it sets a dangerous precedent for our industry. Anytime one of us comes up with a new idea to increase response or improve efficiency, our "partners" at the postal service will figure out some way to get their share. If your are curious as to the postal services position on this check out their propaganda site, ahh, website, at http://www.usps.com/repositionablenotes/welcome.htm Food for thought, until the next time we gripe together.