Periodicals: How to evaluate mail and apply.
The periodicals rate class is generally used for newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. Periodicals get mailed through the Postal Service™ several times a year, largely to people who specifically request these publications. No class of mail is more complicated than that of the periodicals.
Our task here is two-fold:
- To make the process of how to apply as simple and transparent as possible.
- To make the specifics for presentment as clear as possible.
We are not detailing the preparatory steps necessary for each presentment. This overview should be sufficient in allowing you to assess the worthiness of using the periodical class of mail.
Even before we begin, please also refer to the Postal Service™’s own Application Manual, the DM 204(“Applying for Periodicals Mailing Privileges”), is actually a fairly useful and document towards assisting you with the application process.
Why Mail at Periodicals mail rates?
Very Aggressive Postage Rates: Rates are exceptionally attractive when compared with Marketing Mail rates and First-Class Postage Rates, especially for weight based publications. Please review Page 29, of the USPS Notice 123.
Even Better Postage Discounts for qualifying Not-for-Profit organizations and “Science-of-Agriculture” and “Classroom” organizations [publications relating to agriculture, or, used in classrooms, respectively]. However, for lightweight publications, it might make more sense to mail at Marketing Mail or particularly Non-profit flat-rates.
Non-Profit Periodicals Rate eligibility overview. Even to apply for these sub-discount postage rates, it is easiest if you are already an IRS 501(C)(3) incorporated non-profit organization. In other words, if you are a not-for-profit entity that would otherwise qualify to mail at USPS nonprofit rates.
Mail Delivery Speed: Even though the USPS guarantees deliverability for no class of mail except that of Express Mail™, Periodical mail moves at an expedited speed via a unique “News” classification (with accompanying pink sack tags to help postal workers ID importance of mail sack contents). The publication content is assumed to be time sensitive [think newspapers]; therefore, such copy is deemed to age the value of the publication if it is not delivered swiftly.
No Annual Fee: Aside from the initial, and steep, application charge, presently $700.00 (as of Jan. 2018, source, Page 34 of the USPS Notice 123) there are no per annum charges.
What Are the Reasons NOT to Mail at Periodicals Rates
$700.00 Upfront Application Fee. Albeit, this is a one-time charge, it is still a major impediment even to consider mailing under periodical rates. And, it’s non-refundable even if you are declined.
Administrative Record Keeping. You must be able to prove, upon request, that at least 50% of your periodical mailing list represents either paid subscribers, or, direct recipient-requested subscribers. These have to be maintained and available for postal review. Publications must also summarize circulation data for an annual statement of ownership. Filing must be reported (printed) in the publication each year.
Advertising Content Detailed with Every Issue. With every periodical mailing we present for clients, we (Cornerstone Services, Inc.) are required to present a marked up sample copy of each publication. We are required to detail the percentage of advertising (supplied by you, the Publisher). Along with page-over-page Sharpie™ (in red) mark-up of how the advertising is distributed.
Limitations on Some Advertising. The USPS does have some restrictions on advertising content, so it’s not just a matter of not exceeding certain levels of advertising. Simply, you are not 100% free to be creative or experiment or offer opportunistic promotions (e.g. an advertising coupon card insert, an offer to subscribe to a “sister publication”, etc.) to potential advertisers based upon their preferences.
Complicated Rate Structure. Without professional level software to support the various rate tiers, you might want to use MS Excel or some other electronic platform to model the rates prior to filling out the Periodical Rate Postage Statement, the Form 3541. Your net postage rate is a reflection of many factors, than can change month-over-month (e.g. mail piece size, data quality, in-county addresses vs. out-of-county addresses, per-piece weight, inserts or supplements, advertising percentage, number of addresses, number of pages, etc.). It is rare for publishers to fill out postage statements without investing in qualifying software (an additional expense) or without third party assistance (i.e. a mailing service such as Cornerstone).
Periodic USPS Auditing. Reviews can be random or scheduled. Failing a USPS review may mean the temporary or permanent revocation of eligibility, so it behooves a Publisher to take these audits seriously and dedicate time to prep for them properly.
What are the qualifications for Periodicals Rates?
Technically, the USPS lists the requirements for applying for periodical rates the DMM (Domestic Mail Manual) in a section called “Periodicals Nonprofit, Classroom, and Science-of-Agriculture” (https://pe.usps.com/cpim/ftp/manuals/qsg300/q207a.pdf). For practical purposes (and normal people), we know that it helps to have a non-Postalspeak checklist for what you need:
1. Qualifying Purpose of your organization must be clear in the publication content: The content cannot veer from your organization’s purpose. You might not, for example, be able to have a “special issue” on a subject that could be seen as not being in line with your organizational prime directive.
2. You therefore have limited advertising. Advertising is acceptable, but your publication cannot be designed specifically for the purpose of selling or promoting products; consequently, there are limits to how much advertising content is possible. Disclosing the percentage of advertising content for each mailing will be an additional mailing requirement.
3. You must have a subscriber based publication. As far the USPS is concerned, the essential purpose of the periodical mailing class is “transmitting information to an established list of subscribers or requesters.”. Therefore, at least 50% of the recipients on your mailing list must be individuals (or individuals from organizations) who have requested or paid to receive your publication. Your record keeping here will therefore be an on-going requirement.
4. You must publish at least 4 times per year: Printing must be at regular intervals, minimally four times annually, with a stated main office location.
5. Additional Standards: There are specific standards for circulation, record keeping, and advertising restrictions, some of which were discussed above, but all of which are detailed in the DM-204. Another additional standard, for example, is that you must have “printed sheets” to qualify, for “Requester” periodicals, your publication must have at least 24 pages in number.
6. You fill out and file a PS Form 3500 [the Application for Periodicals Mailing Privileges].
Other Important USPS Periodicals Mailing Details:
Number of Records: There is no minimum quantity, number of records, required for a Periodical Class bulk mailing. Additionally, there are no volume requirements, either monthly, quarterly or annually, to avail these rates with your publication. Simply, you must just sending mailings at least on a periodic, quarterly basis.
Weight Requirements: If you are using the IMb (Intelligent Mail™ barcode), as we do for all mailings at Cornerstone, then each publication issue may not weigh more than 20 ounces. If unbarcoded, each issue may not weigh more than an incredible 70.4 ounces (over 4 lbs).
Size Requirements: Similar to flat-rate mailings, the longest side of the periodic publication cannot exceed 15 inches. The shortest side cannot be greater than 12 inches. For barcoded pieces, the maximum thickness is 3/4 of an inch. However, for nonbarcoded pieces, the maximum thickness is 1 ¼”.
Postage Payment: You must maintain an account with the USPS. Your application fee, in part, goes to setting up this account with the Postal Service. Since there is no pre-printed postal permit indicia, meter mark or stamps used, putting money on account is the only method for payment of each presented mailing.
Mailpiece Design & Identification: Your publication title must appear on the cover of the publication along with your organization name. On the inside of your publication, you might list the “brick and mortar” head office location along with contact information. Again, there’s no postal permit indicia printed on the outside of the issue. It’s easiest to look at other qualifying periodicals and simply mimic what you see. Of course, the USPS should review your intended design prior to printing.
What you should know:
Annual Filing Requirements of Either: (a) PS 3526, Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation (All Periodicals Publications Except Requester Publications) OR (b) PS 3526-R, Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation (Requester Publications Only).
Do you have a “Requester Publication”? Here’s a link to the USPS regarding a Customer Support Ruling (as of May 2015) which should help clarify the subject, and, which should help you determine which form to file: https://pe.usps.com/text/csr/ps-054.htm. Of course, the local USPS BMEU (Bulk Mail Entry Unit) should be of assistance as well.
Both the PS 3526 and the PS 3526-R must be filed with the postmaster by October 1 of each year. Typically the postmaster to whom you send this would be at the office of entry where you present your periodical mailings (e.g. the BMEU). The most current version of this document is July 2014. In 2012, to the relief of many publishers, (and perhaps in response to the acknowledgement of our internet-based era), the Postal Service™ allowed publishers to count (claim) electronic subscriptions towards total periodical counts assuming 50% or more of distributed print and electronic copies are actually paid subscriptions (technically reading “paid above a nominal price”). Total subscription levels may be calculated through the filing of a PS 3256 worksheet.