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U.S. Stamp Czar Speaks - Part 1

In the February 24, 2003 issue of Stamp Collector Dave Failor, the Executive Director of the U.S. Postal Service's Stamp Services, told what he hoped to achieve in his first year at this new position. On April 30, 2004, VSC staff reporter Jay Bigalke interviewed Failor to see how he'd done and what else was happening.

This is the first part of what Jay learned. A version of it appeared in
Stamp Collector before its demise.

Lewis and Clark Prestige Booklet

In response to why there is a $1.55 surcharge on the Lewis and Clark prestige booklet, Dave Failor replied "From our point of view in Stamp Services, we're still trying to figure out what role prestige booklets play in our program. This is only the third one that we have done we did submarines and we did Old Glory and each time we do one we learn how the general public accepts the prestige booklets and how collectors accept the prestige booklet. They are very expensive in the grand scheme of things for us to manufacture."

"And what we'll learn from this is, is it an unreasonable thing to ask, for a philatelic product such as that, to pay a $1.55 more? If nobody buys them, it'll be a very clear-cut answer. If they're accepted, that will help us as we move forward with our stamp program to decide wither or not prestige booklets are going to become a mainstay of the program."

Failor said that the retention statistics for the Old Glory prestige booklet were comparable to other blockbuster stamp issues. With the added cost of producing the prestige booklet without the added retention, "what's in it for us as far as the payoff in the end?"

Questionnaires are going to be sent with select orders of the Lewis and Clark prestige booklet that are ordered through Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City. Failor also added that they will be watching sales very closely for the prestige booklets in order to determine the future of the prestige booklet program.

"And for the added value that you get in it, the information that you get about Lewis and Clark and this wonderful moment in history ... we don't think that $1.55 is unreasonable. We'll find out ... certainly the marketplace will tell us."

Collectors might be concerned about the limited distribution policy in place for the Lewis and Clark prestige booklet.

Failor said that for previous prestige booklets, "the collecting community had every opportunity to make sure that they could get those through what we think are easy and simple channels, online, through the 800 number, in philatelic centers, in postal stores. We think that they were available.

"Now, not everybody agrees with that because a lot of people want to just be able to go into their local post office and have everything. But for us, from a distribution point of view, when you have 3 million in the case of Old Glory, the distribution would be very tiny to all of these post offices and we just didn't think that was the way to do it.

"And the feeling is that we think these are going to be very popular with the general public. We might be wrong, we'll find out, but we think that the general public along the Lewis and Clark trail will be more excited about it than, say, perhaps folks in the southeast United States."

Even with the limited distribution, Failor promised that "any post office along the Lewis and Clark trail or in the vicinity, along the Missouri River and the Columbia River and all that ... that is going to have a Lewis and Clark event or anything like that, [will] have the opportunity to order those and have those for their event."

"We believe that they're going to be very popular and we fully expect to sell out," said Failor. However, when asked if the sales were lagging after the first day of issue date, he said "if we ever got to the point where it looks like gee, we're having trouble selling these out, yes, they'd be open to any post office."

I asked what he though about the collectors' reaction to the $1.55 premium so far and he responded that he wasn't surprised. He knew that it would be unpopular with some people who think that anything above face value is outrageous. So far he has only received two emails and three letters but does anticipate hearing more after the first day of issue date [which was May 14, 2004].

He summarized it best when he said, "I will never make everyone happy. That I'm always going to have someone take issue with what we do, and that's fine. Our job is that we're trying to make as many people as possible happy and we think that we're going to be okay with these."

Disney Lettersheets

"For many years now we've been selling the stamped postal cards, like Southeastern Lighthouses, that have the stamp image pre-printed on them, the 23 stamps, and we sell them for $9.95. I've never received a complaint from anybody about those.

"We do take into consideration the feelings and the understanding of the collecting community. The Disney pre-stamped stationary is not targeted to the collecting community.

"Our sole intent behind this was to develop a product that would be easy and convenient for people to use...wither it's sending Johnny off to camp, or son and daughter off to school, you can give them a prepaid piece of stationary, they can write a note on there, they can fold it up and drop it in the mail. They don't have to worry about going and buying stamps or anything like that.

"What we hope to accomplish with this stationary is that people get a feeling that it's easy to send somebody a note or a message, that's what the postal service is all about. That's what we're trying to encourage, and maintain, and strengthen the relevancy of the mail."

"I went into a card store the other day and I looked at stationary that had envelopes with it, that had nice designs on it, some licensed images, and it was $10. If you take that same ten dollars and add $4.44 in postage [for 12 lettersheets], it's pretty close to $14.95, which is what we're charging.

"Again, we don't think it's out of line with what the marketplace currently has out there."

Failor explained that what the collector is interested in isn't the first priority but he did acknowledge that there would be interest in it. The USPS found this out with the Priority Mail pre-stamped envelope that was issued last year, but he emphasized that the collecting community is not the target.

"So those who say we're doing this to gouge the stamp collector are wrong," he said.

"We hope that people find them attractive, we hope that people use them, we hope that stamp collectors would maybe want to add them to their collection. That's fine but if they don't, we won't be disappointed because that's not why we're doing it."

Failor predicted the next question: How much of a cut does Disney get out of all of this? "This is a postal service product, a philatelic product, and our agreement with Disney allows us to do this and none of the proceeds are shared with Disney.

"We're very happy with our relationship with Disney," he continued. "We think the artwork is fantastic, the artwork for the stamps. We think the stationary is going to be popular. And we'll see. The marketplace will tell us if it is or it isn't."

Jay Bigalke

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