Last updated 2001-01-23
These questions really have been frequently asked, and I'm delighted that I'll finally have the ability to answer future enquiries with a brief "Dear Sir, FAQ, Regards, Chris"!
You may be like most people, thinking as you do that QSL managers are nasty, draconian monsters who enforce unreasonable demands on the unsuspecting masses. Some of the replies below may reinforce this perception. Some QSL managers may even actually be nasty, draconian monsters who enforce unreasonable demands on the unsuspecting masses. However, contrary to popular belief, there is no money in QSLing (unless you refuse to deal with bureau requests!), and you have to remember that every letter you send is one of hundreds or thousands per year to arrive at the hapless manager's house. Maybe, as you ponder this profound statement, you will begin to understand that the manager has a hard time appreciating that brilliant technique that you've invented to glue the SAE and the card together with masking tape...
Q: What do you mean by "sufficient postage"?
A: The wording on the IRC (International Reply Coupon) says it all: it is exchangeable for the "minimum postage for... an unregistered letter sent by air to a foreign country". If your country has only one postage rate, the IRC covers postage anywhere on earth. However, many countries, including South Africa, have different postage rates to different destinations. In our case, the minimum rate (i.e. one IRC) does not cover postage to the USA, Europe or Japan. Many countries are in the same boat. If you want to use IRCs, please make sure about the situation in a specific country, or include at least two coupons. That having been said, however, IRCs are not recommended: They represent extremely poor value for money when used in countries with relatively low postage rates. Such countries are generally countries with weak currencies, a category into which South Africa definitely falls. In general, SASEs with stamps sold by DX stamp services are also not a good idea.
Q: Why are stamps sold by DX stamp services not a good idea?
A: Most stamp services do not keep up with the regular postage increases in countries like South Africa. At least half the SASEs that I receive are underfranked. For example, if your DX stamp service sold you a R 2,30 stamp, you are in trouble. R 2,30 doesn't cover the postage, and you are dependent on the mercy of the South African recipient. Stamp services also often provide "standard postage" stamps. These stamps are intended for domestic use only. Although the Post Office sometimes processes letters with three or more of these stamps, strictly speaking they are not admissable. In my particular case, there is an additional complication: I often do not use the Post Office to reply to QSL requests.
Q: Why do you not use the Post Office to reply to QSL requests?
A: I sometimes use a courier service that mails the letters in the target country. Many US DXers, for example, will notice that their replies are franked in the US, and arrive by domestic mail. I find that these courier services are more reliable and faster than normal mail, justifying the higher cost. If you include an SASE, I have to use standard Air Mail. Your letter will arrive later than your friends', or not at all. The courier service also has the advantage that I don't have to stick several separate stamps to each letter. It all adds up when you have to mail several hundred letters! Prices for both the courier services and the Post Office vary rapidly, with the result that I sometimes use the normal air mail, and sometimes the couriers.
Q: Should I include a contribution in addition to postage?
A: Contributions are obviously always welcome! However, I use a policy when requesting cards that you might also consider. If I work a resident, I cover his postage costs. In an affluent country such as Japan or a major European country, I use an IRC, as the postage rates are often more than one US dollar in those countries. In poorer countries, a Greenback is probably more suitable, unless there is a likely problem with mail theft.
However, all these rules fall by the wayside when dealing with DXpeditions. Remember that the DXpedition crew has probably spent a significant amount of time and money to go there. On most DXpeditions, the costs amount to several US dollars per QSO. If you find it necessary to request a direct QSL, you presumably are getting some real advantage from that QSO. I would strongly suggest that you cover at least your portion of the costs. If you made several QSOs, you might want to increase your contribution accordingly. If we all contribute, we can all rest assured that DXpeditions will continue to happen. If we allow the organisers to bear the brunt of the costs, we can probably expect them to be more hesitant next time, or at least to be able to fit in fewer expeditions into their budget.
Q: Did you receive my request?
A: I cannot check until your cards have been fully processed, except by looking through a pile of envelopes one by one. I would suggest you allow a month or so after the Status Report says it's been mailed, and then ask if you still haven't received it. I know you are being consumed by anticipation, but please understand that it takes much more time to deal with individual email requests than it takes to answer the QSL in the first place. So: Please don't ask, if you can resist the temptation!
Q: Why do you (and most other QSL managers) want an SAE with my request?
A: Because I assume that you know your own address, and can write it on an envelope in a few seconds, or might even have a rubber stamp or custom-printed labels for the purpose. You can also buy an envelope in a format that your local Post Office understands. If I have to provide the envelope, I have to find and decipher your name and address in fine print on your QSL card, then write it on an envelope that your Post Office might not like. I probably also write differently to what you and your postman do, so chances are that the letter may go missing along the way. Finally, writing envelopes takes more time than answering the actual QSL. It really helps if you take care of that one chore for us. It's less effort for you than it is for a stranger, and it will enhance your probability of getting the card.
Q: Why did you write my callsign incorrectly on my reply?
A: Technically, this is not an FAQ, as it's only been asked once. The answer was: "Because I made a mistake. In the parlance of aircraft accident investigators, a contributing factor was the fact that your QSL card is poorly designed". If your callsign is printed on the one side of your card, and the QSO information on the other, it's only a matter of time before a QSL manager messes up your callsign. If you can't change the design, take a marking pen and write your callsign on the QSO side, in big letters. That way, the QSL manager can read all the info off your card at a glance, while filling in the reply. The probability of an error will be greatly reduced.
Q: What happens to my fancy colour QSL card once you've replied to it?
A: If it's for a ZS6EZ QSO, I proudly file it in my collection along with almost 100 000 others. If it's for another callsign (such as for a DXpedition), it goes straight into the paper recycling bin. The trees of this world will be eternally grateful for your contribution.
There's a moral to this story: I would strongly discourage anyone from using fancy or expensive QSL cards when requesting a card from "QSO Factory" type DXpeditions. Most of these DXpeditions get literally tens of thousands of requests, and most of the sentiment dissipates after the first ten thousand or so have been handled. If I order a direct card from a DXpedition, I generally send a short note requesting the QSL cards, rather than sending expensive QSL cards. They all seem entirely happy with this arrangement. You might certainly consider doing the same!
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