If you are not mailing your magazine at Periodicals Class rates, then you are potentially losing out on major cost savings and service advantages. But, not all magazines qualify to mail in this class.
According to the United States Postal Service, Periodicals Class rates are reserved for magazines that meet stringent frequency and content requirements. "The publication can not be designed solely for advertising purposes and qualify for Periodicals rates," says Ken McCasline, a classification specialist with the Postal Service. "Our definition of advertising is a little loose. But if it tries to get the reader to buy it, seek it, or promote it, we consider it advertising."
So what are the advantages of mailing at Periodicals rates?
ﾕ Potential improved mail delivery. Periodicals mail enjoys expedited delivery, so delivery of your magazine can be up to five days faster than Standard mail. If your publication is weekly or more frequent, the special "News" category within Periodicals mail can speed the delivery even more.
ﾕ Better postage rates. Periodicals postage rates are usually lower than Standard mail, but the regulations for Periodicals rate are much more complex. By some estimates, magazine publishers can save a substantial amount over other mailing class rates by using Periodicals rates. However, there are some instances – namely if your magazine is a light weight (in terms of actual pounds, not editorial quality) – where the postage differential is minimal. In this case, it may even be more expensive to mail at Periodicals rates.
ﾕ Posting of legal notices. Some states require that legal notices can only be published in Periodicals rate publications. If legal notices are a significant source of ad revenue for your magazine, mailing it at Periodicals rates can be of great benefit.
ﾕ Specific Postage discounts. Certain postage discounts – firm bundle rates and pallet discounts, for example – are only available to magazines that mail at Periodicals rates. If your circulation includes multiple copies to individual companies, or to the same residential address, you may be able to qualify for the firm bundle discount. Also, pallet discounts apply to any mail that is placed on pallets of 250 lbs or more to a destination.
The Postal Service’s McCasline says that magazines wanting to convert from other classes of mail to Periodicals can save a lot of money on postage by doing so – potentially up to 40 percent.
"The postage savings depends on how the publication is sorted and the geographic area it is being mailed to," he notes. "Periodicals is very attractive. Most people who convert do it because they weren’t aware that it was available to them in the first place."
But for some publications, particularly those mailing at non-profit rates, the reduced postage rates afforded by Publications Class mailing may not offset the time and energy needed to comply with the Postal Service’s requirements. In this case, it may actually be less expensive to mail at Standard Class non-profit rates.
And now for the bad news. Some of the disadvantages of Periodicals mail include:
ﾕ Complicated Record Keeping. Publishers are required to prove to the Postal Service that more than 50 percent of their magazine’s total circulation is paid for or requested by the ultimate recipient. This means that records of transactions with subscribers/requesters must be maintained and available for review by the Postal Service. Publishers also must be able to document the disposition of all copies printed, regardless of the method of distribution or even if they are distributed at all, to meet this requirement.
ﾕ Complicated Rate Structure. Periodicals postage rates are very complex and not easily understood. This complexity makes it difficult to estimate postage for budget purposes, or for analyzing the effects of changes in such things as paper weight, trim size, page counts, inserts or supplements.
ﾕ Periodic Postal Reviews. The Postal Service conducts periodic eligibility reviews for Periodicals rate publications. Preparing for these reviews can be time consuming.
ﾕ Public Circulation Records. Publishers must also maintain production and circulation records for the audits. Circulation data must be compiled annually for the statement of ownership filing. This information must be published annually in the magazine for Periodicals authorized in the General and Requester categories, so this information becomes public knowledge.
ﾕ Restrictions on Content and Enclosures. Periodicals regulations restrict the amount of advertising, as well as the types of materials that may be included in the magazine, whether bound-in or polybagged. Some of these restrictions may limit your publication’s creativity or potential advertising revenue.
To complicate matters even more, the Postal Service has a number of restrictions that may prevent your publication from even being eligible to mail at Periodicals rates.
In order to quality for Periodicals rates, your magazine:
ﾕ Must be a periodical publication.
ﾕ Must be published at regular intervals, with a frequency of no less than four times a year.
ﾕ Must have as its primary purpose the dissemination of information and not be primarily an advertising vehicle.
ﾕ Must be issued from a known office of publication.
ﾕ Must consist of printed sheets.
ﾕ Must be circulated primarily – 50 percent, plus one copy of the total circulation – to persons paying for or requesting to receive for free the magazine.
"Every Standard mail piece can not be converted," McCasline says. "Custom publications, for example do not qualify."
Periodicals mail has the distinction of offering the most complex regulations of all the mail classes. Many of these restrictions have to do with your magazine’s content and circulation. These rules are in place because Periodicals mail enjoys reduced postage rates and preferential delivery treatment.