The E-Stamp Inc internet postage deal that we flagged yesterday turns out to be with America Online Inc. AOL will include the E- Stamp service within its forthcoming Postage services center, which is slated to launch in early 1999, probably in the first quarter, at the same time E-Stamp gets regulatory approval to offer its […]
The E-Stamp Inc internet postage deal that we flagged yesterday turns out to be with America Online Inc. AOL will include the E- Stamp service within its forthcoming Postage services center, which is slated to launch in early 1999, probably in the first quarter, at the same time E-Stamp gets regulatory approval to offer its service nationwide. At present the service is in beta with approximately 300 small businesses and home office users in the Washington DC and San Francisco Bay areas. AOL will also provide links on aol.com, Digital Cities and CompuServe to take users back to the E-Stamp web site where they can buy postage once they have established an account. AOL says the deal is non-exclusive but would not go into details as to what else would be featured in its postage services center or to what other internet postage companies it is talking. The initial tie-in will occur the regions of the US on which E-Stamp has its beta testers. E-Stamp says the AOL dial-up online service is ideal because it can target users by zip code, which is what E- Stamp has to do because of the US Postal Service (USPS) regulations and some 3.5 million of its 14 million total user base are small businesses. E-Stamp was the first company to get approval from the USPS for its system to enable users to print out postage value in the form of bar codes on envelopes. There are three versions of the E- Stamp service. The desktop software sits on the PC like any other application, and ‘money’ is stored electronically in a separate electronic vault, which is a small device that plugs into the parallel port developed by E-Stamp and Dallas Semiconductor. USPS regulations forbid the storing of monetary value in software alone, says Ellen Perelman, E-Stamp’s director of business development. The desktop version is likely to sell for around $100 in retail outlets where other office supplies are sold. The second variant is the pure browser-based internet version, where a customer account is maintained on E-Stamp’s servers and the value is downloaded to the computer. That was submitted for USPS approval in August and Perelman says that should come around the same time as the nationwide rollout, or maybe slightly after. The third method is via the company’s postage API, which it has used to integrate the service within Microsoft Word and Outlook. More licensing deals with other application vendors will follow soon, with Intuit Inc’s QuickBooks likely to be one of those. E-Stamp’s investors include Compaq Computer Corp, Microsoft and AT&T Corp. E-Stamp will partner with Compaq whereby every PC sold to the small business market will come pre-loaded with E-Stamp software and the E-Stamp will become part of Compaq’s online service package for small businesses. Another investor, Berlin, Germany-based Francotyp-Postalia will include the software with its postage meters – the very machines this kind of product is looking to replace – but more importantly, it has deals with more than 80 national postal authorities around the world. The USPS issued a set of specifications called the Information Based Indicia program (IBIP), which the companies have to meet. Another proposal from Stampmaster Inc got approval in August and proposals from other firms, including Pitney Bowes, are currently being considered. Incidentally, Pitney Bowes claims to have set of patents applying to cryptography and key management that will affect both E-Stamp and Stampmaster, but Perelman dismisses that as far as E-Stamp is concerned. She says E-Stamp has had discussions with Pitney about its patents but believes that E- Stamp has enough patents of its own to obviate the need to license anything from Pitney.