Ride-Along Program Extended, Could Become Permanent

Members of the mailing community welcomed the Postal Rate Commission's decision to extend the 2-year-old catalog Ride-Along program.

The test program, which would have ended Feb. 26, allows periodicals mailers to include one ride-along CD mailer or catalog of up to 3.3 ounces poly-bagged within a magazine for a flat rate of 10 cents each. Without the program, these items would be sent at Standard rates and could cost 20 cents to 30 cents each. In the program, the rates are paid by publishers, who also have to pay the regular Periodical postage rates for the host publication.

The PRC recommended that the U.S. Postal Service's Board of Governors continue the program until June 30, when the USPS expects new rates to take effect as part of a rate case settlement plan now being negotiated. The rate case proposal would make the Ride-Along program permanent, and the per-piece cost would rise to 12.4 cents per piece.

“I am very pleased the PRC recognized the success of the experiment,” said Howard Schwartz, director, distribution and postal affairs for Conde Nast Publications, New York. “We are out there trying to sell these advertising inserts and outsorts to advertisers, knowing full well that we were looking at an expiration date we couldn't control.”

Though Conde Nast has experimented with the program only briefly, Schwartz said, “I'd like to see more programs. Hopefully there will be other creative uses for the rate, like the sampling of products.”

Program restrictions include that the ride-along piece:

• Not weigh more than 3.3 ounces.

• Not exceed the weight of the host periodical.

• Not change the shape or processing category of the periodical.

• Must be included in all of the periodicals mailed.

Insiders said these stipulations were made so the publishers don't put too many items into a magazine and thereby dilute its value. The 10-cent rate increases if the ride-alongs exceed these specifications.

The postal service began the Ride-Along experiment Feb. 26, 2000. A PRC report said that the program has generated $9.9 million in revenue for the USPS on a volume of 99.3 million pieces. The report said that 62 percent of the ride-along materials were CD-ROMs; 13 percent were sample products; 9 percent, brochures; 7 percent, catalogs; 2 percent, letters; and 1 percent, other magazines. Six percent were unidentified items.

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