As far back as I can remember, law firms have always detested postage stamps. Even while steadfastly refusing to embrace any modern technology and holding on to their filing cabinets and manila folders for dear life, lawyers have consistently and inexplicably embraced the digital postage meter.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the digital postage meter has not, until now, provided any actual benefits to the lawyer. Even today, the advantages to digital postage are minor, with a cost benefit analysis possibly suggesting that the one area of technology that lawyers have embraced may be the least exciting one.
The Traditional Digital Postage Meter
Up until the new millennium, when you spoke of digital postage, you spoke of a postage meter, licensed by the USPS to a company that would then lease it to you. Pitney Bowes is the name that I am sure comes to every reader’s mind. In fact, those who may not have been sure what device I was talking about, until now, probably experienced a dawn of realization upon reading the name of that brand.
These digital meters were (and still are) great for a larger firm. Assuming you are shipping lots and lots of mail/parcels daily, and benefit from the high-speed weighing and postage, the monthly lease rate and supply fees may be justifiable.
Is it cheaper than regular postage? Well, no. While there is a (very small) discount by using digital postage, that discount is swallowed up in the lease and supply costs. In fact, just the supply costs eat up the discount all by themselves.
The only benefit: Increased efficiency on high-volume mailings.
The con: Unnecessarily expensive for a low volume mailing firm, like most solo and small firms.
Online Postage Printed in Sheets
As technology evolved, companies like Stamps.com sprang up to fill the lower volume market. On its face, the idea sounds appealing. Buy blank sheets of postage stamps and print them as needed, with the ability to set stamp values as needed. Convenient? I suppose. Economical? Not at all.
The first problem one encounters is the cost of the blank stamp sheets. Adding that alone to the cost of the postage drives the price higher than traditional stamps. On top of that, you need to print entire sheets of stamps at a time, or risk printer jams with bits of sticky stamps and possible permanent damage, if you try to print postage as needed and re-feed the same stamp sheet into your printer.
The only benefit: Not going to the post office to buy your stamps.
The cons: Cumbersome, requires you to maintain supplies of stamp sheets and of course costly.
Computer Based Postage Printers
The newest players on the scene allow for a bit more features and functions. These would be the combination postage and address labeling printers (like the Dymo LabelWriter 450 Twin Turbo) that tie into an online stamp vendor (like Endicia), as well as a desktop USB scale, to create a Pitney Bowes style solution for the small firm.
Dymo printers, as an example, come with proprietary software which ties into a special free (no monthly fees) Endicia postage account. Dymo’s software has contact book integration, allowing you to use one of the two rolls to print address labels, while weighing your letter/package on the scale and printing exact postage from the other roll. More importantly, Dymo provides various management and logging tools, allowing you to input reference information for each stamp you print.
The benefits: Efficiency and the ability to digitally log all outgoing mail.
The cons: You still end up paying more than regular postage, because you have to buy the rolls of blank stamps, and the cost of each blank stamp is higher than the discount the USPS gives for using digital postage.
For a small firm, postage can be resolved as follows:
If you have an exceptionally high volume of outgoing mail, get the Pitney Bowes. But if you have a low postage volume, the only reasons to get a digital postage system would be for logging purposes and to save yourself trips to buy stamps (though you’ll still have to order rolls of blank stamps).
If your motivation is purely cost, go to the post office, buy yourself an assortment of stamps in various denominations, and a simple postage scale, so you can always place exact change. If you want the benefits of logging without a digital postage printing solution? Maintain a new spreadsheet called “Mail Log.”