Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GOING POSTAL....Suppose you have an ordinary piece of paper to mail. You don't want to fold it, so you put it in an ordinary 9"x12" envelope. It weighs less than an ounce.

Question: How much postage does it require?

To enter this contest, put two things in comments: (a) your guess, and (b) how long it took you to figure out the answer. This is an open book test and you may use any reference materials you like.

When we're done, I'll tell you what I think the answer is and what the post office thinks the answer is. Sadly, they don't seem to match.

UPDATE: The answer is 80 cents. Initially I thought it was 41 cents, not knowing that an ordinary 9x12 envelope now counts as something special. Then, after digging through the USPS website for a while, I thought the answer was 58 cents. But no. Turns out that a 9x12 envelope is not a "retail letter or card" plus a fee for being nonmachinable, it's a "retail flat," which has its own fee table. So that's 80 cents for the first ounce. Plus the 41 cents I wasted on the initial try, for a total of $1.21 plus three days of delay. "Shaping a More Efficient Future in Mail" my ass.

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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Comments

It used to be 65 cents after the surcharge for the large format was added to the 39 cent basic postage. So my guess is that it is now 75 cents.

Posted by: Xenos on June 26, 2007 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

80 cents.

I have a bookmark to the USPS site, and used their calculator the other day. Took less than 2 minutes. Still, was hard to find the calculator the first time.

Posted by: Wapiti on June 26, 2007 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

80 cents. Took me about thirty seconds to find the answer on the usps web site.

Posted by: John on June 26, 2007 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

Question: How much postage does it require?

I cannot answer unless I am offered immunity.

Posted by: Spirit on June 26, 2007 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

80 cents. http://postcalc.usps.gov/default.aspx

Five minutes. I wasted time looking at the rate tables, which had cryptic notes like, "Envelops exceeding the dimensions of 102.2.0 pay nonmachinable surcharge."

I wasn't sure of the answer till I found the calculator at the link above.

Posted by: treetop on June 26, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

$0.80.

Posted by: supersaurus on June 26, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

boy, your tag stripper is aggressive. apparently I have to say "less than 1min" rather than use the symbol that appears as shift-comma on my keyboard.

Posted by: supersaurus on June 26, 2007 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

My first guess was $0.65 or 0.70, but I guess I'm a little on the low side. I used to ship a lot through USPS at an old job, and we had a giant chart of postal regs that I'd read on slow days. My favorite bit was the minimum size of mail they'd accept. It was something like 4.2" x 3.75", with a minimum thickness of seven thousandths of an inch. Really. How am I supposed to measure that?

Now granted, my opinion always was that being a quasi-gov't agency, they had to draw the line somewhere, and so some bean counter with really sensitive calipers figured out that the thinnest postcard that would handle the rigors of being sorted, tossed, re-sorted, tossed again, thrown in a bale of stuff, tossed once more, and then finally delivered was 7/1000". But really, they could have just said "we won't mail anything thinner than card stock" and most people would've got the point.

Posted by: JB on June 26, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

80 cents. Take 25 seconds on the postal service website. I assumed it was first class, non-business and that it was going domestic.

Posted by: Adivz on June 26, 2007 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

a) 70 cents
b) 1 minute to find the standard rate (80 cents), five more minutes to figure out the nonmachinable surchage is 12 cents if it has a clasp.

Posted by: B on June 26, 2007 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK


80 cents.

First-class large envelope (flat) figured at 1 ounce (have to round up).

h

Posted by: hancock on June 26, 2007 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Well, as I recall, that's oversized. It doesn't go through their letter things, and it needs to then go through the package handlers.

Basically, if you want it first class, you'll want to put it in a Preffered envelope, and that costs like $2 flat-fee.

Posted by: Crissa on June 26, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

/**

$65, because you are mailing it to Fiji and you want to use the Post Office's Global Express Guaranteed rate, which apparently is actually FedEx.

*/

# three minutes

Posted by: jerry on June 26, 2007 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

Folks ... what do you expect out of a new rate system that was explicitly designed for large companies and not for regular consumers? Simplicity?

To mangle a line from the movie "The Good Shepard," it is THEIR postal system. You are just borrowing it.

Posted by: Bokonon on June 26, 2007 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

GOING POSTAL....Suppose you have an ordinary piece of paper to mail. You don't want to fold it, so you put it in an ordinary 9"x12" envelope. It weighs less than an ounce.

You don't want to fold it, but you didn't put in a piece of cardboard?

Posted by: jerry on June 26, 2007 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

When we're done, I'll tell you what I think the answer is and what the post office thinks the answer is. Sadly, they don't seem to match.

Ah, got it kicked back to you, huh? I had a client who had their IRS return sent back because they thought they could send an 8.5x11 at first class rates.

As someone else above mentioned, use the $2 envelop if you want it to get where it is going anytime soon. Or call a bike messenger.

Posted by: Disputo on June 26, 2007 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

Dude, what's my motivation here?

Posted by: Keanu Reeves on June 26, 2007 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

I had to look it up on the usps.gov website (20 seconds): $.80

But I think I see where you are going with this. I knew there was a surcharge for the large envelope but clearly it has increased out of proportion with the regular envelope rate. For some reason I best recall when it was $.29 plus $.23 for large envelopes (obviously a while back) but now we are at $.41 and $.39. This is a 41.4% and 69.6% increase respectively.

It would seem unlikely that sorting large envelopes has become increasingly more costly relative to regular envelopes so why the differential?

Posted by: cthulhu on June 26, 2007 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

Guns don't kill people...postal workers kill people.

Posted by: jrw on June 26, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

Well..okay... a 9x12 envelope... well I can sit here and honestly tell you... that it costs something... I think that I knew how much at some time in the past...but I do not recall...

So, how much postage and how long to figure that out... well, I know that someone knew that, but I do not recollect who or, exactly what it is that they may have forgotten....

So, having fully answered the questions...


$1.13- I guessed after cruising the usps website.

Posted by: Out on Bond on June 26, 2007 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

I know where this post came from! My granddaughter is Inkblots number one fan, and Kevin mailed her a picture! Damn - wish I had kept the envelope!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 26, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

1. Hiring Arthur Anderson as consultants for job: $10,000 initial expenses
2. Powerpoint presentation on cost-estimation strategies: $50,000
3. Final report with senior partners: $100,000
4. Estimates (with clasp, w/o, etc) using lowcost Indian programmers: $9,000
5. Actual cost of postage: $0.70
6. FINAL COST: $169,000.70 if paid in 30 days!

Posted by: whenwego on June 26, 2007 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

1. Hiring Arthur Anderson as consultants for job: $10,000 initial expenses
2. Powerpoint presentation on cost-estimation strategies: $50,000
3. Final report with senior partners: $100,000
4. Estimates (with clasp, w/o, etc) using lowcost Indian programmers: $9,000
5. Actual cost of postage: $0.70
6. FINAL COST: $169,000.70 if paid in 30 days!

7. Giving taxpayer money to your friends in the oil industry: Priceless.

Posted by: Spirit on June 26, 2007 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

If your package is rigid it costs more than if your package is limp.

Doesn't seem right...

Posted by: chance on June 26, 2007 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

Hey! Let's let the same people run our medical system! Less complicated and more efficient. Promise.

Posted by: jerimander on June 26, 2007 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'd probably do what I always do when I don't want to go to the postoffice....I'll put 4 stamps on the damn thing and put in it my mailbox!

Posted by: ktmnyny on June 26, 2007 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

$1.99. Two minutes. Just 41 cents if you were willing to fold it.

Posted by: DOW on June 26, 2007 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

A week or so after rates went up, I went to the USPS web site to double-check the postage on an ordinary legal envelope with two pieces of paper inside.

It took me the same lengthy process to find (confrim, that is) that the rate was 41 cents for an ordinary letter.

If the post office were run like a business, a big button with FIRST CLASS LETTER NOW 41 CENTS would have been planted on the home page, not a quiz ten layers down as to the shape most like the shape of the ordinary first class letter.

Posted by: Tom Parmenter on June 26, 2007 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

Less complicated and more efficient. Promise.

There's at least 40 million people out there who would take that in a heartbeat, jackass.

Posted by: Seitz on June 26, 2007 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

I like what jerimander said. I saw some other lefty blogger today complaining about the Passport Office, and had the same thought.

However, I believe that the preferred lefty answer is that this is all Bush's fault. Most likely, he knew what was Kevin's envelope and didn't want it delivered. Ask Prof. Walter Murphy of Princeton (yes, the real Princeton), the Bush administration really does work that way.

Posted by: y81 on June 26, 2007 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

Tiger Woods y'all. Tiger Woods y'all. It's all good y'all. Tiger Woods y'all.

Posted by: caris on June 26, 2007 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

1 dollar. 50 cents for the postage and 50 cents to insure your mother.

Posted by: Blair on June 26, 2007 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

Never had kids...but most look great to me. Josh Marshal's son Sam is a total cutie.......
http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2007_04_22.php#013768
Richard

Posted by: Richard on June 26, 2007 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'd scan it into .pdf format and attach it to an e-mail and it would cost me nothing (except my $49.95 per month ISP fee).

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on June 26, 2007 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

You have no idea! They put the quietus on International air Parcel post at the same time! I mean what's up with this shit? we ARE still funding them so WTF!

Posted by: jay boilswater on June 26, 2007 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK
boy, your tag stripper is aggressive. apparently I have to say "less than 1min" rather than use the symbol that appears as shift-comma on my keyboard.

Or you could just say <1min. HTML entity references are your friend.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 26, 2007 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Hey! Let's let the same people run our medical system! Less complicated and more efficient. Promise."

Hey! Let's let the same people run our military system!

Hey! Let's let the same people run our police departments!

Hey! Let's let the same people run our fire departments!

Hey! Let's let the same people run our intelligence agencies!

Oh, wait....

Posted by: PaulB on June 27, 2007 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

There's at least 40 million people out there who would take that in a heartbeat, jackass.

Yeah, that leaves 260 million others dragged into it whether they want it or not.

Posted by: rnc on June 27, 2007 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

the symbol that appears as shift-comma on my keyboard.

&lt; = < = "less than"
&gt; = > = "greater than"

Posted by: ogmb on June 27, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

If I have something like that, I don't bother with the post office. I use a courrier service, which is both faster and cheapeer than the post office.

Posted by: focus on June 27, 2007 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, you're shaping mail in the future with your ass? But you don't want the piece of paper folded?

Posted by: jerry on June 27, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Kevin, another Bookmark from you.

I know that this sounds odd...but I'm not sure I could run this office without you....lol

Interestingly, I was at my local USPO and they didn't have any hand-outs or any kind of literature on the subject.

I mean they're cool people `n all and were somewhat embarrassed by this...I just wish I had the Retort handy....

"That's Okay, Mr. Drumm will tell us."

Thanks again, Traveller

Posted by: Traveller on June 27, 2007 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, are you serious? Did you really drop a "regular" 9"x12" envelope in the mail with standard letter postage? I've always found the USPS.gov site easy to use, and thought from your description that something had changed. Nope -- clicked on "calculate postage", then "domestic", then clicked on the question mark next to "Large Envelope" since the graphics for "regular envelope" look much smaller than 9x12. Sure enough, 9x12 is in the "large envelope" category. Answer: $.80. Not a lot of sympathy for you on this one.

Posted by: SkippyFlipjack on June 27, 2007 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

You apparently put your envelope in the mail with 41 cents and then got it back marked insufficient postage. What the post office doesn't tell you is that you can reuse that 41 cents towards the correct postage, even though the stamp was cancelled. If you had put another 39 cents on the envelope, I believe it would have been delivered.

Posted by: Larry on June 27, 2007 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

^^^
I was wondering about that. IIRC, the post office shouldn't have canceled the original postage if it was being returned for an error.

I really doubt that a courier service would be cheaper then the post office for nationwide service. IIRC, the post office's first-class delivery is by law the cheapest (although not guaranteed to be fastest).

Even with e-mail, I appreciate being able to send a letter across the country for a low, flat rate.

Posted by: Ryan on June 27, 2007 at 4:11 AM | PERMALINK

This latest rate increase & complexity rampup is about the least publicized rate change ever.

At home, my wife went a month without knowing it had changed.
At work, the postage meter doesn't ask about envelope size. We haven't had anything kicked out yet, so I have to wonder: Does the Postal Service know their own rates? Or is there going to be an explosion in a couple months?

Posted by: Downpuppy on June 27, 2007 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Flats are just a pain in the butt to handle, compared to regular letter mail. Not that things haven't changed in the eons since I worked for the USPS (they didn't have letter sorting machines then), but just think about it: letters are smaller. We used to sort flats downstairs, in front of a huge case, and it just goes slower.

Dig out your archive of National Geographic sometime, mix them all up, and then sort them according to month and year. Then grab a deck of cards, shuffle, and sort according to suit. See which one is easier.

Posted by: Jim of the West on June 27, 2007 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Ryan doubts a courier service will be faster and cheaper than the post office. Maybe not in the US. I'm in Japan, where Yamato will deliver the bigger envelope overnight for a little over half of what the post office charges (minus any promise of overnight delivery). Doesn't need to be in a heavy paperboard envelope. Regular envelope. And Yamato comes and picks it up. So I use Yamato most of the time, even though the post office is right across the street.

Posted by: focus on June 27, 2007 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Weren't 9x12 envelopes always more expensive than letter-size envelopes?

Posted by: rabbit on June 27, 2007 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

My practical guess (i.e. what I would have actually used) would have been 78c a few months ago, and 82c today. However, more likely I'd have walked up to a post office to find out and would have mailed it right there. Perhaps that isn't an option in Southern CA.

Posted by: RS on June 27, 2007 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

What in the world are you mailing anyway...

Posted by: George on June 27, 2007 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Several years ago, while doing homework for a bid I was working up for some consulting contract for the USPS, I arranged to take a tour of the Portland OR main post office.

I forget the exact number of pieces of mail they have to turn around every day between mid-afternoon and early the next morning, but it was in the millions.

When I looked at the river of 'raw' [straight out of the mail truck sacks] mail as it came in for its initial sorting, and I realized that the manual sorter was wearing surgical gloves because there's no way of knowing what is going to be in [or poking/leaking out of] some of those envelopes and packages, I began to understand the wistful/rueful look on our guide's face as he explained that in Japan [naturally] you're limited to a handful of sizes for envelopes that the post office will deliver.

Now I think of that guide every time I hear Click and Clack joking on NPR that submissions to their "Puzzler" contest should be mailed on the back of a $20 bill, or a coconut, etc.

And if I ever use a blow-in magazine subscription card, I always put it in an envelope and stamp it. Turns out those things are the bane of mail handlers' lives.

It's sort of the classic American service dilemma: We want infinitely flexible service, and we want it cheap. Since those are generally incompatible, we often wind up not really getting either.

bn

Posted by: nothstine on June 27, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

It costs .80 and took me 15 seconds to figure out.

Posted by: yorkie on June 27, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

What an anachronism. Your government at work.

Posted by: Brian on June 27, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

I spent a half hour at the post office this morning, mailing twenty 9x12 envelopes filled with (the same) sheet music to various places both nearby and somewhat far. They were over 13 oz, meaning they were packages. Each one got weighed with its zip code to determine postage options. Some were $3.47 parcel post, some were $4.50 (or $4.60 priority). One was over $6 for some reason. But it took a half hour to process each one one at a time. I would have felt bad, but it is their stupid process. Can't wait for the lines at Christmas this year.

Posted by: sbw on June 27, 2007 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

58 cents

I use the office postage meter, which doesn't know the size of the envelope it is weighing and therefore tells me the same number, whether it is in a small or large one. I've sent hundreds of large envelopes this waym including some since the last rate hike, and never had one returned for insufficient postage. Maybe the meter gives immunity--it looks official.

Posted by: anonymous postal patron on June 27, 2007 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

WTF? With your reasoning KD, I can place a sheet of paper, slap on 0.41 stamp and voila. In St. Louis in two days. Give me a break, it's common knowledge that larger envelopes are charged more.

Posted by: Armen on June 28, 2007 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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