Grow circulation with mail sampling; sell extra advertising as a bonus

I continue to get calls and emails on sampling non-subscribers. This rewrite will attempt to draw a sharper line between the two confusing rules that govern non-subscriber copy mailing.
The non-subscriber rules in the Domestic Mail Manual are there to allow you to promote your newspaper to non-subscribers and increase your mail delivery. Too many papers fail to use this tactic, but more are showing interest as newspapers struggle to attract readers and advertisers.
Some papers have had success sampling a route or two at a time for two to four issues. Others choose to sample an entire ZIP code or the entire county. But either way, sampling addressed pieces to 90 percent of the active residential addresses, or 75 percent of all addresses, on in-county routes earns you a low 3.4-cent Saturation piece price. That compares to a 6.5-cent piece price for Basic (six to 124 pieces per route) in-county mail, saving you nearly half of the per-copy piece price.
You can also mail “Simplified Address” Saturation, so long as 100 percent of Active Residential or Total Active deliveries are provided copies. See below.
Include a good offer to subscribe or renew in each sample copy. For those worried about offending current subscribers, make the offer two-tiered, with a higher discount level for new subscribers, and another, lower one for renewals. A single-sheet flyer with a coupon pulls more response than ROP ads.
The more in-county subscriber copies you can build and retain, the greater your sampling privilege is to sample at in-county prices in the future, without paying outside-county prices for non-subscriber copies sent above the 10 percent rule.

10 PERCENT OF IN-COUNTY SUBSCRIBER COPIES GET IN-COUNTY PRICES FOR NON-SUBS
Domestic Mail Manual 207.7.9.3 specifies that in-county eligible newspapers can mail 10 percent of the in-county subscriber copies in a calendar year to non-subscribers using the low in-county rates. To estimate your entitlement, add the Subscriber Copies column, lines A1/A2 of your 3541 Postage Statement, pictured above. Multiply times the number of issues in a year, and take 10 percent of that.
For example, a weekly with 3,500 average in-county mail subscriber copies can send 18,200 copies to non-subscribers at in-county rates (3,500 X 52 = 182,000 X .10 = 18,200) in a year. Double that for a twice-weekly paper. A five-day mailed daily earns 91,000 non-subscriber copies at in-county rates under that formula.
The U.S. Postal Service provides a Periodicals Non-subscriber Percentage Calculator at Postal Explorer (http://pe.usps.gov). Click on Business Solutions in the blue horizontal toolbar, then scroll to the 10th item down for the Excel spreadsheet. This helps you track your in-county price eligibility and know when to switch to Regular prices. Use of this tool can help prevent over-sampling using in-county prices, which could result in a back postage bill, if audited.
In-county carrier route prices are 15.4 cents a pound for DDU entry and 3.4 cents per piece at Lines A1 and A15 of Postage Statement 3541. That equals 6.7 cents per piece for a 4-ounce newspaper.
You can use the “simplified address” of “Residential Customer” (DMM 602.3.2.1.a) when sampling rural or city routes. Some software vendors provide electronic CDS (Computerized Delivery Sequence) files giving all addresses in a ZIP to help mailers wanting specific addresses.
When using simplified-address mailings, one must provide enough copies to reach either all active residential customers or total customers (including businesses) on each route. I recommend residential.
One can obtain official updated counts at https://www.ilsw.com/postal-resources/delivery-statistics/. Click the “Detailed” button and enter your ZIP. Use “Act. Res.” count, seventh column from the left or right. Exclude PO boxes with city routes when present in the ZIP.
Newspapers are not required to duplicate subscriber copies when using simplified address saturation mail, nor when mailing addressed copies to non-subscribers. Also, when sampling infrequently, a single issue can mail more non-subscriber copies than subscriber copies. (See Customer Support Ruling PS-228 at Postal Explorer website.) Simplified address copies do not technically count as subscriber copies.

YOU CAN MAIL UP TO 50 PERCENT FREE AT HIGHER OUTSIDE-COUNTY PRICES
You can sample more non-subscriber copies using Regular price (outside-county), so long as a Periodical does not violate the 50 percent paid rule on average. You cannot have more than 50 percent of your total distribution free on a regular basis, however.
Although an issue can exceed 50 percent free, be careful not to abuse the privilege. You don’t want to violate the rule that says more that 50 percent of your total distribution by all sources must be paid. Permit revocation could result if that shows up over an extended period.
Those wishing to sample above the 10 percent in-county rate ceiling pay regular carrier-route prices of 14.5 cents for Saturation on Line C31 of Postage Statement 3541, plus 12 cents per DDU advertising pound (B1) and 8.8 cents DDU nonadvertising pound at DDU (B13). Entry at DDUs (delivery offices) is critical when sampling. A 4-ounce piece would cost 12.3 cents.
Requester rules are identical, allowing 10 percent more copies to nonrequesters to try to increase the requested total or reach more of the market. Only requested copies earn in-county price.
 
WHEN SAMPLING
You can also grow ad revenue when sampling your entire market at once. Your market could be an entire county, or the primary ZIPs inside the county that you serve. You need to provide your advertisers and potential advertisers a reason to spend their scarce ad dollars. What better way than to provide them total-market coverage in a paid news product several times a year?
Some papers have built circulation and advertising with monthly sampling, often tied to the issue nearest the start of a new month when government paychecks are in the hands of residents on fixed incomes.
Although sampling this way usually results in several issues mailed at outside-county Saturation prices, it can still pay off if revenue growth is strong enough. Variables include economic conditions, the commitment and execution by sales reps, and the date picked, such as seasonal or local retail occasions.
Some newspapers bump ad rates higher, while others offer local merchants the opportunity to reach every household at existing rates. Some with shoppers allow the sample to replace an issue of the shopper, saving Standard Mail postage as well. 
MAX HEATH, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Landmark Community Newspapers and NNA members. His travel is sponsored by Interlink Software. Email maxheath@lcni.com. © Max Heath 2017