17 setembro 2004

Picture this:
Your face on a stampFor about $1, stick a favorite photo on an envelope and pop it in the mail.
Raise postage by a penny and we cry foul.
But let us put a picture of Sparky, the motley family mutt, on a first-class stamp and we'll gleefully pay $1 for a 37-cent product.
Such is the happy experience of Stamps.com, a West Coast company with exclusive permission from the U.S. Postal Service to generate postage bearing pictures of your baby, your puppy and you.
This grand experiment was launched on Aug. 10. More than 1.5 million PhotoStamps have been sold since then, Stamps.com chief executive officer Ken McBride said.
Simply take a snapshot with a digital camera and send it by computer to the PhotoStamps Web site (http://photo.stamps.com/.) The site walks you through the ordering process.
Within five to seven business days, usually sooner, the stamps arrive... in the mail.
But you can't take an action shot of your favorite Eagle, or an unflattering photo of your pesky next-door neighbor. No celebs, no politicians, no nudity.
Initially, Stamps.com had few ground rules and ran into trouble. (Snapshots of serial killers were the least of it.)
So the company now gladly accepts photos of babies, pets, cars and landscapes. Photos of adults and teens need to be sent from reputable photographers or photo studios and, of course, with the approval of the subject of the photograph.
Come Sept. 30, the Postal Service or Stamps.com can end the arrangement. Or both can agree to keep it going.
"We've already decided we want to continue," McBride said yesterday. "Now it's up to the Postal Service."
And though the Postal Service isn't ready to give its final stamp of approval yet, spokeswoman Monica Suraci says, it sees no reason to discontinue the program.
Money is not at issue for the Postal Service. For the personalized sheets, its cut is just the usual 37 cents. Stamps.com gets all the rest.
Jim and Nancy McKinley of Pennsport were the first on their block to buy PhotoStamps.
"It was easy. You go online, upload the picture you want. And in a matter of days you get your stamps," said Jim McKinley, a reinsurance broker.
McKinley read about the new venture and ordered the stamps as a surprise for his wife.
Their sheet of 20 stamps, priced at $16.99 plus $2.99 for shipping and handling, came to 99.9 cents per 37-cent stamp. (A sheet of 20 regular 37-cent stamps at the post office, with no shipping and handling, is $7.40.)
"Yes, it costs a little more, but for special occasions... ," he said.
Certainly to the McKinleys, the image is priceless.
For here is 2-year-old Elisa McKinley, a ponytail atop her head, bright-eyed and adorable.
Now, instead of snowmen or Norman Rockwell scenes, the McKinleys have their daughter's face for their Christmas cards.
"For special events and as a keepsake," Jim McKinley said, "it's great."
Seems brilliant. Why hasn't this been done before?
Stamps.com was already doing business with the Postal Service, selling what is called "PC postage," a way for individuals and small businesses to download standard U.S. postage stamps using their personal computers.
Allowing people to put their own photos or business logos right on the stamps was just the next logical step, McBride says.
But not for the Postal Service, which has its hands full delivering the mail. Besides, for decades, it has limited images on postage stamps to people who have been dead for at least 10 years.
Marketers say the PhotoStamp has great potential. Babies and bunnies are fine, they say, but the big money is on the bride.
And this, thought John Filemyr of Levittown, is a job for a professional photographer.
Filemyr and business partner Brian Michael of Photo-Illustrations were, last week, among the first local wedding photographers to offer PhotoStamps to their customers.
And even if the bride doesn't use a PhotoStamp on the invitation, she might pick one for the thank-you card.
The Knot.com, an online shop and magazine advertising everything bridal, recently counted the number of thank-yous mailed: 225 million annually.

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