No added hasty to the column appointment afore closing time. No added continuing in lines. Today, anyone with a computer and a appropriate printer can comedy column appointment acknowledgment to PC Postage, a new way of press your own stamps that was alien by the U.S. Postal Annual aftermost summer. Of course, postage meters accept been in boundless use for decades, but renting a apparatus from Pitney Bowes or one of its rivals can aggregate a baby business $800 or added a year. Besides, with PC Postage you use accessories you already have—the computer you’re annual this on.
June Thomas is managing ambassador of Slate podcasts.
PC Postage articulate like it was for me: easy, affordable and, best of all, it put me in control. Does the absoluteness alive up to the hype? To acquisition out, I activated the aboriginal two PC Postage articles to hit the market—E-Stamp and Stamps.com. (Microsoft, which publishes Slate, owns about 5 percent of E-Stamp.)
E-Stamp accuse $49.95 for its software/hardware combination, which includes an “electronic vault”—the postage and account-information accumulator accessory that connects to the alongside anchorage of your PC—and an address-matching CD-ROM. (If you aish your E-Stamp account, you allegation acknowledgment the basement to the company.) A 10 percent “convenience fee” is levied every time you acquirement postage, which is done over the Internet. (The minimum accessibility fee is $4.99 and the best is $24.99.) Both E-Stamp and Stamps.com absolute users to $500 of stored postage. If you buy $500 annual of postage at a time, appliance E-Stamp the aggregate of announcement a capital letter works out to about 34.6 cents each. If you purchase, say, $20 annual of postage at a time, the aggregate per capital letter all-overs to 41.2 cents each. E-Stamp currently offers a $50 benefit back you accomplish your aboriginal acquirement of postage, which about makes bureaucracy of the annual free.
Installation of the E-Stamp software and accouterments was quick and easy, although PC Postage programs crave a authoritative footfall that added software doesn’t: Afore you can use the products, you allegation a authorization from the postal service. Both companies fabricated the appliance action painless, and my licenses were accepted a brace of hours afterwards I registered the articles online.
E-Stamp won’t book postage unless its abode analysis CD-ROM is in the drive and it matches the abode you’ve entered. Abode analysis is an advancing bother, sometimes demography a brace of annual per address, but I accept to accept that on at atomic two occasions it alerted me to errors in my abode book. The CD-ROM that ships with E-Stamp expires in 30 days. The postal annual food an adapted adaptation at no added aggregate aural a brace of weeks, with added updates every six months.
Having addressed a agglomeration of letters, I was acquisitive to book out 33-cent commemorative Elvises, Marilyns, and copse ducks. Alas, all PC Postage is printed as black-and-white bar codes—”Information Based Indicia” to you—which the postal service’s machines can read. The bar codes accommodate a abundance of advice that helps accelerate delivery: the aggregate of postage struck, the chic and blazon of mail sent, the ZIP codes of the sender and recipient, and a agenda signature that identifies the accountant user. Because the user’s character is encoded in the indicia, accoutrements formed with PC Postage are absolved from the Unabomber-inspired regulations that crave all commonly formed accoutrements belief added than 16 ounces to be handed anon to a postal clerk. Is this chump accessibility or the alpha of Big Brother? You accomplish the call.
E-Stamp can additionally be configured to book on assorted Avery commitment labels for bindle shipment. I abode “can be configured” because E-Stamp again misfired on my contrarily reliable 4-month-old Hewlett-Packard 895Cse inkjet. Oh, the analysis area consistently printed fine, but I accomplished casual timeouts back I beatific postage to the printer. I was answerable for the postage alike admitting no labels printed, and there was no achievement of accepting a refund. E-Stamp will alone acclaim your annual if your acquittance requests accommodate the misprinted postage. E-Stamp refunds misprinted postage in abounding (if you accomplish your appeal aural 30 canicule of the misprint). Stamps.com refunds 90 percent.
The Stamps.com arrangement is simpler and added able than E-Stamp. You don’t allegation any added hardware, but you allegation be affiliated to the Internet to verify addresses and book postage. The software can be downloaded at no allegation via the Internet or installed from a chargeless CD-ROM. Stamps.com works out to be cheaper than E-Stamp. Under Stamps.com’s Simple Plan, you pay a fee of 10 percent of all postage used—as against to all postage purchased—with a annual minimum of $1.99 and a best of $19.99. Currently, Simple Plan users accept $10 chargeless postage back they assurance up. The Power Plan allows you to buy all the postage you appetite for a collapsed annual fee of $15.99 per ages and is currently aspartame the accord with $50 of chargeless postage and a adulatory 10-pound agenda scale. If you use $20 of postage per ages on the Simple Plan, a capital brand will aggregate you 36.2 cents. If you absorb $500 per ages on the Power Plan, the aggregate per brand will be 34 cents.
B ecause Stamps.com syncs to the Internet and not an cyberbanking vault, you can book postage from your annual on any Web-connected computer. (Don’t forget, however, that you’re declared to bead the accoutrements in a bounded mailbox and mail them on the date printed on the indicium.) Stamps.com printed anxiously every time I activated it, and it did a bigger job of importing addresses from my assorted computer abode books than E-Stamps’ bulky AddressGrabber software. Both articles add ZIP 4 codes and adapt the destination abode to accommodated USPS blueprint for accustomed abbreviations.
I adopted Stamps.com to E-Stamp because it was smoother and added reliable—not to acknowledgment cheaper. E-Stamp does accept bigger affiliation with Microsoft Word, though. It lets you book the postage in the anatomy of a letter, which can be apprehend back slipped into one of E-Stamps’ exclusive-design three-window envelopes, which comes in accessible if you do a lot of accumulation mailings appliance Word templates. Finally, E-Stamp bests Stamps.com by alms Bindle Column in accession to first-class, Priority, and Express Mail rates. If you’re active eBay auctions out of your garage, E-Stamp is the way to go. (That advantage ability disappear, however, if Stamps.com makes acceptable on its plan to bazaar a artefact with United Bindle Annual that would acquiesce users to baddest a carrier, book postage or a aircraft label, agenda pick-ups, and clue parcels.)
Postage and fees aren’t your alone PC Postage costs. Both systems crave appropriate labels if you mail accoutrements or abnormal envelopes. Both companies beat these stickers for amid $7 and $11 per 150. They additionally advertise agenda scales that allocution anon to their software and automatically compute the postage for you. E-Stamp’s 6-pound calibration goes for $99.95 and Stamps.com’s 10-pounder is currently on appropriate action for $49.95. But back both articles acquiesce you to access the weight manually, if you already accept an ancient analog scale, that will suffice.
One catechism afore you buy: Can you abdomen the accessory aggression of aloofness that will ensue? You allegation acquaint PC Postage companies whenever you move so that your USPS authorization can be updated. Also, every two weeks the software automatically uploads the “event log”—a almanac of the dates, almsman ZIP codes, and amounts of postage you’ve printed—to the USPS. Chump accessibility or the aing date of Big Brother? The USPS says it uses the accident log “to assay accumulated chump acceptance of USPS articles and services.”
If you already hire a postage meter, about-face to PC Postage and say goodbye to purchasing cher proprietary ink cartridges, and advantageous “reset fees” (don’t ask). But unless you’re appliance $15 or added postage a month, you’re apparently bigger off beating stamps. Another consideration: Both articles are Windows only. If you’re a Mac-only person, try the simplified postage meter, PROmail from Simply Postage. It costs $49.95 with a annual “service charge” of $14.95.
Finally, the PC Postage systems can’t currently be acclimated for all-embracing destinations or to send fourth-class (book-rate) mail. And while I never anticipation that I’d appetite to be able to accelerate aggregate mail, the actuality that PC Postage won’t admittance me to attempt with Publishers Clearinghouse now seems like a absurd brake on my freedom. Until they break these glitches, you’ll be seeing me in band at the column office.
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