Beyond Print Toolkit: Postal delivery

The benefits and challenges of relying on the United States Postal Service for delivery

By Hayley Slusser

June 27, 2024

Two hands hold envelopes in a red circle on a blue background
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In recent years, newspapers across the United States have reported inconsistencies with traditional carrier delivery due to labor shortages, challenges reaching rural areas, increased costs, and more. 

Increasingly, publications are turning to another partner to help solve their delivery challenges: The United States Postal Service. While many weekly or monthly publications already utilize the postal service for delivery, a growing number of daily papers are turning to the USPS. 

In some areas, postal delivery can be more reliable, but it’s not without its own challenges as readers have to adapt to new delivery times and live without a Sunday newspaper. This section of the guide will walk you through the opportunities and challenges of postal delivery. 

The essentials

Postal delivery of newspapers is nothing new: Since the United States’s founding, Congress allowed periodicals to be delivered via mail at special rates — or even for free. Though rates have increased over the years, the switch to mail is on the rise: Gannett switched more than 70 of its markets to mail delivery since 2022, and the U.S. Postal Service recently shared that more than half of last year’s applications for periodical delivery were from daily or weekly newspapers. 

Even with recent and proposed fee hikes, the cost of mail delivery is still typically lower than private carriers. The USPS has recently proposed a price increase for periodicals, which has been opposed by the News/Media Alliance. 

Although a successful transition to mail delivery can save your organization money in the long term, it is not without its challenges. Rates differ for in-county delivery vs. delivery beyond your region, so you’ll have to navigate different pricing models. The Postal Service is facing its own labor challenges, so there may still be disruptions to deliveries from time to time. 

Same-day delivery of newspapers is possible through the Exceptional Dispatch program, which allows publishers to deliver copies of the newspaper to their local post office each morning to be delivered by carriers that day. The USPS says the program is open to publications with circulation below 25,000, but it will consider applications from news organizations with larger circulations on a case by case basis. Same-day postal delivery can affect the content included in each print edition, since the deadline to drop newspapers off with the post office may be earlier than deadlines for most private carriers.

Even though the probability of receiving the newspaper at the same time each day is high, readers will often need to adapt to a later delivery time since their mail will not be delivered first thing in the morning when daily papers have historically been delivered. And with no mail delivery on Sundays, news organizations turning to mail delivery will no longer be able to produce a Sunday paper in its traditional format. Not only is this a disruption to reader habits, but charging the same rates for one less day of delivery may cause customer dissatisfaction. 

Because of these changes to reader routines and product offerings, it is important to roll out mail delivery with an increased emphasis on the digital product offerings that can be accessed at any time.

Key indicators

Increased costs of carrier delivery or significant disruptions to delivery routes may be a sign that mail delivery may be a good option for your newsroom. 

At one point in time, 20% of The Salt Lake Tribune’s delivery routes were vacant due to carrier shortages, causing the paper to scramble for replacement delivery workers. Newspapers were often delivered 3 to 4 hours late, and in extreme cases, wouldn’t even come until the next day.

When it came to subscribers who were only getting a paper one day a week (such as a Sunday-only subscriber), the cost of delivery was extremely high, since delivery companies had to profit off the single day they were delivering. The Tribune was paying 60 cents a copy for single-day delivery, compared to around 30 cents per copy for mail delivery. 

In an interview with the Medill Local News Initiative, Brad Hill, chief executive officer at Interlink, which provides mailing software to more than 2,000 newspapers and also consults on mail delivery, said postage fees vary depending on the weight of the paper and how far from the core market it is being delivered. Newspapers being delivered by mail within the same county as the publisher have lower rates. 

When applying for periodical delivery, you’ll need to fill out PS Form 3500 and pay a one-time application fee of $950. Periodical delivery is only open to publications that include editorial content — not just advertisements. Cornerstone Services, a direct mail company, said publications will need to answer some of the following questions as part of their application: 

  • Do you print at least 4 times a year?
  • Will or does your newspaper have less than 75% advertising? 
  • Is there continuity issue-over-issue (examples: Same title publication, same thematic content, same publisher? Same price?)
  • Does your news organization have an office location somewhere?
  • Do you have at least 100 qualified subscription requesters (i.e. individuals who have specifically requested to subscribe to your publication)?
  • Do you have samples of your periodical publication to provide to the USPS? 


The Seattle Times experimented with print delivery among 2% of its subscriber base, allowing the organization to determine whether mail delivery could be a viable option for its entire subscriber base. It included all subscriber types and geographies in its initial test. The staff considered the following factors evenly when selecting participants for the experiment: 

  • Tenure
  • Delivery satisfaction
  • Weekend, Sunday-only, and 7-day subscribers.

“We needed the insight of the behaviors of our core subscribers — that is, those subscribers that are within our core distribution area, long tenured, and paying high rates — to determine what the effect would be if we moved the entire subscriber base to mail delivery, not just those in more peripheral geographies, those that are less tenured, and those with less price elasticity,” said Curtis Huber, senior director of circulation and audience revenue.

Subscribers did not receive any pricing changes with the shift, and all customers in the test group made the change at the same time. 

Other organizations may need to make a more drastic shift in a short amount of time. The Salt Lake Tribune made its transition from seven day delivery to a single day of mail delivery amongst its entire print subscriber base all at once. 

Both The Times and The Tribune saw significant customer confusion or dissatisfaction when the switch was made, with the Tribune averaging 1,000 calls per day to its call center. To further understand how subscribers reacted to the shift, The Times surveyed its readers within the first week of the transition, after three months, and at six months. 

For newsrooms with the luxury of having ample runway to make the transition, consider rolling out this change in small groups. Gradually rolling out a transition allows you to treat each group of ZIP codes as a test that can inform the strategy for the next group. It also affords you time to create marketing materials that will prepare readers for the shift and create a customer service infrastructure to handle questions and concerns about the move. 

Giving your organization that room to pivot when needed is important as well. In 2022, one year after reducing its print frequency to one-day per week and moving to mail delivery, The Salt Lake Tribune added back a second day of print delivery — a move that helped it regain some of its lost subscribers.


A move to postal delivery requires adjusting processes across your organization — from the newsroom to the printing plant. 

Tim Franklin, senior associate dean at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, said moving to mail delivery means rethinking what kind of content is being pushed via print vs. digital platforms.

“If consumers who are used to getting a paper in the morning now are going to pluck it out of the mailbox in the afternoon, they’re going to expect it to have a different value to their lives. What’s breaking news at press time may be old news by the time it hits the mailbox,” Franklin said to the Medill Local News Initiative. “So, the printed newspaper needs to be relevant in other ways – more enterprise and feature stories that are in-depth, contextual and personal; More stories that point forward, not backward.”

The biggest change to your print product may be the loss of the Sunday paper, which may look different for every organization based on your subscribers’ needs. The Seattle Times created the Weekend Edition, which was delivered by mail on Saturday and was a hybrid of the Saturday and Sunday papers. It had all of the advance run sections that were already printed on deadline and a new local news edition called “Weekend Dispatch” that included coverage from most non-advance run sections.

“We wanted to preserve as much of the Sunday newspaper experience as possible,” Huber said. “We’ve done a lot of reader research on the value of the Sunday experience.”

Huber added that once it came time to make arrangements with the Post Office, patience is key, since postal permissions may differ depending on which region you are delivering to. Companies like Interlink work between publications and the Post Office to set up bulk delivery and pricing models.

Building up a robust call center and customer service operation before the transition is also crucial, since no matter how much you communicate with subscribers beforehand, there will still be some who are confused. After a sharp increase in calls once its changes were implemented, The Salt Lake Tribune increased its call center capacity and added several staff members who would be better equipped to handle questions regarding digital access. 

Additional resources

  • The National Newspaper Association Foundation established the Max Heath Postal Institute to train newspapers and printers on utilizing mail delivery. Members of organizations like the National Newspaper Alliance and News/Media Alliance have access to this training, along with other resources including a postal consulting hotline, webinars and events, and regular updates on changes in rules and regulations. 
  • The Seattle Times shared an example of the letter it used to notify subscribers of service changes. This was sent via email and direct mail, but other news organizations have also used ads, columns, letters from the editor, FAQs, or other mediums to inform subscribers about the switch. Check out the Public Communications section of the toolkit for more tips. 
  • The Seattle Times also shared an example of the survey it conducted amongst their mail delivery test group within the first week of the transition, after three months, and at six months. The survey not only helped the Times understand reader habits, but it gave an outlet for those who were frustrated to feel like their concerns were being heard. 
  • Gannett continues to transition its markets to postal delivery, according to its 2023 annual report. The report states: “In 2023, we converted 46 publications to same-day mail delivery via the U.S. Postal Service in certain markets where it is viable from a customer and financial perspective. Our goal is to reliably deliver to the consumer, and lower costs in some cases, as well as eliminate unprofitable distribution routes where possible. We intend to continue to explore mail delivery in 2024.”
  • Digital product offerings will be an important supplement to your print publication after switching to mail delivery, so it is important to have easy-to-access information available to help subscribers get online. Here are examples from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Alabama Media Group, The Seattle Times, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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