Commentary: Will the "forever stamp" fly?

The Christian Science Monitor

The Postal Service delivered some good news and some bad news this week.

The bad news: Stamp prices are expected to rise 2 cents in May to 41 cents, the Postal Regulatory Commission announced. The good news: With the introduction of a "forever stamp," it may be the last time Americans have to fiddle with pesky 2- or 3-cent stamps to make up postage differences.

Beginning in May, customers would be able purchase the stamps in booklets of 20 at the regular rate of a first-class stamp. As the name implies, "forever stamps" would retain their first-class mailing value for all eternity, even when the postage rate goes up.

The new stamp is the United States Postal Service's (USPS) answer to customer complaints about frequent rate increases. The May hike will be the fifth in a decade.

Postal rates have risen because of inflation, competition from online bill paying, and the rising costs of employee benefits, including health care, says Mark Saunders, a spokesman for USPS.

The USPS expects some financial gain from the interest generated from sales of the "forever stamp" and the savings from not printing as many 2- or 3-cent stamps.

"It's not your father's stamp," said Saunders. But "it could be your great-grandchildren's stamp."

Other countries, including Canada, England, and Finland use similar stamps, also called nondenominational.

The USPS has considered introducing the idea since last spring. Since then, USPS and the independent Regulatory Commission have debated the merits of nondenominated postage.

Market research conducted by USPS in 2006 showed that customers liked the idea of such a stamp, although there was little indication they planned to buy more than they usually do.

Don Schilling, who has collected stamps for 50 years and keeps a web log titled The Stamp Collecting Round-Up, says he'll be interested in the public's reaction.

"This is an entirely new class of stamps," Schilling said. "I'm going to stock up on these puppies." He added that he'll buy the stamps simply because he will be able to use them for a long period of time, not because they will have any collector value.

The USPS board of governors has yet to accept the commission's decision, but tends to follow its recommendations. No plans have been announced yet for the design of the stamp.


Editor's reaction: The "forever stamp" definitely would be a plus for the public. But would the government keep its promise never to raise the rate?

The USPS says competition from online bill-paying has forced it to raise rates (see fifth paragraph of story). That doesn't wash -- if it has less work to do, it should be able to lower costs, not raise them.


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