Image: "Forever" vs. first-class
Steven Senne  /  AP
The "forever" stamp, left, that features a likeness of the Liberty Bell, appears next to the new 41 cent first-class flag stamp.
updated 7/20/2007 8:13:14 PM ET 2007-07-21T00:13:14

The new “forever” stamp, the one that will always be good for first class postage, is proving popular, but the postmaster general says other commemoratives will be sticking around, too.

The forever stamp was issued in April, and sales now total 1.2 billion. The post office produces around 40 billion stamps annually.

In an Associated Press interview Friday, Potter said he expects sales of the forever stamp to jump in the months before any new rate increase, but he added: “We have other stamps that are of keen interest.”

“The American public buys stamps for more than just postage, they use it many times to send a message. You have people who buy flag stamps to show their patriotism,” for example, he said.

Others use the “Love” stamp for wedding invitations, and many people collect stamps on subjects that interest them.

“The stamp represents the things that make America great, the people, the places and the things,” Potter said.

On the business side, he said a law passed last year covering how the post office operates is requiring some fundamental changes.

“Probably the biggest change, and the one that is probably the least understood, is that the Postal Service cannot just raise rates as our costs grow,” he said.

The new law caps rate increases at the rate of inflation. The post office is working to stay in the black and improve service, he said.

A key for the agency now is avoiding deficits, because “once you get into a deficit situation you can spiral into the ground, because if you don’t respond to it quickly you’re going to have to finance growing debt,” he said.

The agency must do whatever is necessary to keep Americans using the mail, Potter said.

“We know they have choices, so we know we have to improve our service levels,” he said.

One problem is the post office has to add nearly two million new delivery points — homes and business — each year, a growing expense even as the volume of first-class mail shrinks.

Revenue per delivery point totaled $433 last year, down from $469 in 2000, Alan Kessler, vice chairman of the agency’s governing board, told Congress on Thursday.

On other topics, Potter said:

—“We’ve got a big surge coming” with delivery of 1.2 million copies of the new Harry Potter book. The post office has been working with the publisher and printers to make that effort work smoothly.

—A new barcode will allow the agency to track the movement of every piece of mail. The new codes will be mandatory for commercial users starting in January 2009, Potter said, although the general public will not be required to use them.

The mail is scanned regularly as it travels, and people “will be able to track their mail, by specific piece of mail, as it moves through our system,” Potter said. For the Postal Service, he said, “it will allow us to adjust our systems to improve the service that people are receiving.”

Though individuals won’t be required to use the new code, they will be able to do so using the agency’s Internet page.

—The agency is looking forward to becoming more competitive in package delivery, which currently makes up about 10 percent of its business.

The independent Postal Regulatory Commission is working on new rules to speed up the agency’s development of negotiated service agreements that can provide discounts to mailers.

In the past, a rigid rate structure has limited the ability to compete with other package delivery businesses.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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