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September 4, 2004

Slobodan Milosevic, Ted Kaczynski, and Linda Tripp are now on U.S. postage stamps - for real


Jessica Mintz wrote an amusing story for Thursday's Wall Street Journal about the attempts of thesmokinggun.com to game the new USPS vanity postage stamp program.

They submitted Lee Harvey Oswald, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic (currently on trial for war crimes), and Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky's old bud, to the service to be put on stamps.

Surprise: only Oswald was rejected.

The stamps featuring the other three are now legal postage.

Here's the article.

Custom Stamps Put Dogs and Dictators On Your Envelopes

When Stamps.com launched a service that turns any digital photo into a custom postage stamp - a vanity stamp of sorts - the company anticipated portraits of Spot, the family dog, not the spot on Monica Lewinsky's infamous blue dress.

But the Smoking Gun Web site decided to use the latter to prove a point.

"We thought it was ridiculous - a way to raise revenue by letting anyone put their mug on a stamp," says William Bastone, editor of thesmokinggun.com, a site owned by Court TV that collects celebrity mug shots, quirky court reports and government documents.

"For the longest time, stamps [were reserved for] statesmen, people who helped do incredible things for the country.

Now it's devolved into Daffy Duck and every manner of dopey thing," he says.

So Mr. Bastone and his colleagues decided to push the envelope. Some of their more egregious submissions for the stamps, like a mug shot of Lee Harvey Oswald, were swiftly rejected by Stamps.com.

But pictures of a high school-aged Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and Lewinsky confidante Linda Tripp - along with Ms. Lewinsky's dress - are now legal postage.

"We designed the PhotoStamps product with a family orientation in mind," says Stamps.com Chief Executive Ken McBride.

So far, 40% of the 40,000 stamps ordered have been pictures of babies.

Pets - many dressed in costumes - make up 15%. The stamps cost about twice what the U.S. Postal Service charges.

The Smoking Gun "took great lengths to game our system," Mr. McBride says.

A staff of 35 at Stamps.com screen incoming photos, and are constantly being trained (mostly by surfing the Web) to recognize inappropriate yet obscure faces. Over a thousand images have been rejected for taste or copyright concerns, according to criteria the company sets, Stamps.com says.

The Postal Service authorized Stamps.com to conduct a two-month test of PhotoStamps, starting Aug. 10.

The USPS declined to comment on what would happen to the service after the trial ends.

Instead, a spokesman noted that the service's next official stamp will feature John Wayne.

September 4, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink


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