USA TODAY
Posted 8/10/2004 6:29 AM     Updated 8/10/2004 10:14 AM
Stamps of individuality push the envelope
By César G. Soriano, USA TODAY
Breaking with tradition, the U.S. Postal Service has approved stamps bearing the likeness of a living person: you.

Stamps.com today announces a service that allows people to design their own postage — from kids to cats to corporate logos — on their computers.

"It makes mailing a little more exciting," says Stamps.com CEO Ken McBride.

The company, which is based in Santa Monica, Calif., received exclusive permission from USPS to test their product, dubbed PhotoStamps.

A sheet of 20 self-adhesive, 37-cent PhotoStamps costs $16.99, more than twice the $7.40 cost of a sheet of traditional First Class stamps. (There's also a $2.99-per-order shipping and handling charge.) The personalized stamps also are available in other denominations, including 23-cent postcard (20 for $13.99) and $3.85 1-pound Priority Mail (20 for $89.99).

The process is simple: Log on to photostamps.com, upload an image, edit the design, place an order. The stamps arrive in four to seven business days. Next to the design is a bar code and unique serial number to prevent counterfeiting.

PhotoStamps fall under the USPS regulations for metered mail, so they are exempt from the regular-stamps rules that no living people can be featured and that those dead must be gone for 10 years (except for historic and presidential stamps).

There are PhotoStamp limits: no nudity, no controversial or politically partisan images and no copyrighted material. Fans hoping to honor, say, the New York Yankees or Jennifer Lopez won't get a stamp of approval.

"Of course, if Jennifer Lopez were to order a sheet of herself, that would be the exception," McBride says.

Humans, not machines, will screen each image to make sure it complies with company guidelines. During a brief trial period last week, the most submitted images were babies, pets and family photos.

Custom stamps are already popular in some countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.

USPS will not receive any additional funds from PhotoStamp beyond the face value. "We're just expanding options for customers," says spokesman Mark Saunders.

Stamps.com is targeting special-occasion mailings: wedding invitations, birth announcements, holiday cards.

"It's going to generate a lot of excitement," says Janet Klug, president of the American Philatelic Society. She supports anything that brings people back to snail mail, which is "going the way of the dodo bird."

But don't expect that Aunt Edna or Fido stamp to appreciate in value. Anyone can make a PhotoStamp, anytime they want. And, at almost $1 apiece, stamp collectors are unlikely to buy into them, Klug says. They are "very thrifty individuals."