Since the days when hi-tech meant mail delivered via the new-fangled stagecoach, Britain's Royal Mail has based its letterpost prices on weight. And at the halfway point of the twentieth century when mechanised sorting came into common use, weight rather than size continued to determine price.

And so it continued until December 2003 when the state-owned organization, desperate every which way to turn a profit, devised a plan to revamp its charging structure according to size. This, it claimed, would be more machine-friendly and therefore more cost effective.

So far so good. Except … the postal quasi-monopoly omitted to agree its new cost-saving wheeze with its largest customers, the direct mail industry. Likewise out in the cold are Britain's envelope and greetings card manufacturers -- all of whom are up in arms at lack of consultation.

The plan is now under consideration by postal services regulator Postcom. Says an unrepentant Royal Mail: "It is something that we do intend to do as part of the more commercial approach that we are taking. Our heritage is great but we have got to look to the future."

So unless mailers are eager to pay more, it seems they must eschew the old envelope dimensions, the most common in current use being the European standard DL.

Instead the RM is introducing a hybrid system with just two machine-friendly sizes: the smaller envelope conforming to the US standard of 240mm wide by 165mm high; the larger to European B4 size, 353mm by 250mm. Anything over these sizes will incur higher costs.

The scheme, which is strongly opposed by industry and consumers alike, has been touted by Royal Mail deputy chairman Elmer Toime, who introduced a similar system in his native New Zealand.

Fears the UK's largest direct marketing agency, Omnicom-owned WWAV Rapp Collins: "This will make direct mail less attractive to many businesses because the cost equation just won’t work.” While consumer body Postwatch believes the public would be puzzled as to what value stamp to lick. “It is asking for a big change of culture,” it said.

Summed-up one direct mail veteran: "Archetypal Royal Mail behaviour: right brain conceives potentially sensible idea, left brain cognizant only of idea, unconscious of customer needs."

Data sourced from: Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff