QSL and green stamps
The code of ethics (II)
We are going to break a taboo in speaking money as it is never well appreciated in a non-profit activity. It should be known that a few radio amateurs make money with their QSLs. Most amateurs do probably not worry about this practice rather rare, and I agree with you. However it is important to note that this practice does not respect the ham spirit that most of us try to protect and develop. As some novices could be swindled in this way if they send many QSLs direct, some comments are thus not useless to prevent such behaviours repeat.
Indeed, for some amateurs, if you do not pay some fee to get their QSL, it is likely that you will never receive it ! Is it still amateur radio when you have to pay to get confirmation of your QSO ? I don't think so, and the behaviour of such amateurs has to be caught.
Whatever the ham station, local or DX, individual, team or club, as I explained above, do never accept to pay more than 2 GS for a QSL, and in the worst case wait for a more sympathetic operator or another DX-pedition !
The fact to justify the high price due to the quality printing or other charges is as true for him than for you. So no amateur can really justify such a practice, excepted a very small percentage of unemployed people and those working from very poor countries where operators receive no support at all from their government or from associations.
It is by far preferable to preserve the "good health" of our hobby. Everybody or almost has paid to print his QSLs but nobody should wait a financial return in QSLing !
In some occasions if you sent the GS or the IRC as requested your recipient will send you his most beautiful QSL. For others, and this attitude is observed from time to time, if they are in a good day, for all QSLs received via the bureau or for all those for which one IRC or 1 GS is missing they will send you their ordinary QSL, which sometimes look like an old paper rather than to the postcard you dream of.
Hopefully over 99% of amateurs do not care about the quality of the QSL as soon as the QSO is confirmed, but unfortunately there are a small fraction of amateurs who take advantage of this lack of attention or "desinterest" to charge their QSL.
There is matter to wonder of this strange behaviour. Some of you could be also nervous from the moment that you consider QSLs as "collector items" and that you know that this station has already sent to one of your friend a more beautiful QSL... So, if you really want a nicer card, contact him again on the air or send him an email and try to negociate his other QSL. This will probably cost you one more GS or to wait his QSL via bureau.
Of course I have to insist on the fact that this chase for postcards like QSLs *is not the objective* of QSOs and is absolutely *not mandatory*, excepted if you consider them as we have just told as "collector items". But in this case do not forget that the GS you included in your envelope will not necessary cover the price of this quadricolor QSL, which should take into account the price of printing too, probably much more expensive than a B/W model... So be glad if your contact accepts the deal without charging you more than 2 GS (while respecting what we have just told above).
So after have worked the same contact, if you see sometimes friends comparing their QSLs and wondering why the one they hold is different with respect to another, the first being a 2-color bristol card, the second one displaying vivid colors, now you know why...
QSL and green stamps
If you contacted or heard the same amateur 5 times on 5 different bands in a short time, and if you want QSLing direct but have to pay 5$ plus stamps for each QSL sent to pay the return (for a total of about 10 €) - you learned the lesson -, be smart. Keep the QSL in a drawer until the day you estimate have gathered all your bands or mode.
That day extract the QSL from your drawer and instead of depositing $1 in 5 envelopes, make only one QSL on which your will write your 5 QSOs. Another option is to write 2 or 3 QSLs only gathering QSO by mode or any other sorting method. Your correspondent could not be unaware of it and will send you back as much QSLs as you sent him, but he will send you too his or her most beautiful QSL as proof of frienship and you will gain some dollars and a new friend on the air !
And when your stock of QSL will be empty, do like many amateurs : print new QSL cards with 3 to 6 lines of QSO... In the long run if you are very active on bands that will allow you to spare much money, believe me.
So work some radio amateurs. They know that their country is very appreciated or that they are a few hams working on the air, and they deliberately seek to make some or even much money in this manner. If their behaviour is debatable, the life is unfortunately made so. Either you accept the rule of the game and you pass the transaction or you denied such methods. But it is obvious that in the second case, you will never get his QSL by return, and your last DX entity will remain in suffering ! But as we told, to preserve the health of our hobby, this last option is probably the best one.
As we mentioned, this situation is not always to blame. When a DX-pedition worked 80000 QSOs in two weeks, you imagine well that the ops or the QSL Manager will answer only to the hams who sent their QSL in respecting rules.
It is a bit like a quiz or an assembly line work. The operator or the manager opens your self-addressed envelope and checks the parameters of the QSO. If all is OK, he sticks his label with the QSO information on his QSL, put it in the envelope and send it to you. Next one ! No feeling, that becomes nearly an reflex act, Hi !
If he has to take some times to check the date and time zone (some QSL are shifted of one or two hours and listed the previous date !), the port, to write your address or worse to pay charges, I am sure that like him you should put this QSL non respectful of conventions in the trash can or better you will send it back via bureau when you 'd have time... So a good advice, listen well to what is told during QSOs and write well the right time zone in UT with the appropriate date !
This is also the reality of QSLing direct. On the bottom this attitude is condamnable as theoretically any QSL requires an answer and fortunately most amateurs work this way. But what do you want, when you must send thousands QSLs in a few months, you tend to think differently.
Another difficulty can occur when your recipient works with a QSL Manager to whom it is asked to send your QSL with as much IRC or GS as necessary to ensure the return. In fact for a few years IRC are no more accepted everywhere or, at least in some country, they give no right to their counterpart in national stamps to ensure the return of a QSL - whatever its weight or size.
In Australia or Canada for example an IRC pays only one third of stamping. That means that your dear addressee living in Queensland or Vancouver from whom you await the QSL direct by airmail will have to pay from his pocket $1 or $2 US additional. An economy-class delivery costs about $1.5 US but the fastest answer, providing a less-than-one-week delivery costs about $2 US in those countries. Knowing that in VE for example one IRC cost $3.5 Canadian, thus about $2.25 US per IRC, if you join only $2 US your recipient will have to pay 25 cents additional. Your QSL risk to be charge with what you sent him but will not be send by airmail, as the postage is not sufficient, but rather by sea. Delay : at least 2 months. At best, the QSL will be send you via bureau.
Here are all countries requesting 2 GS (in fact between $1.2-1.5) to send a QSL direct by airmail (as on 2004) : 4L, 5A, CE0, CX, DL, EK, EP, HB, HK, TI, UR, VE, VK, YB, ZS. In case of doubt about IRC do send GS. They are always accepted, even by intermediates, Hi !
In other countries like Cambodia (XU), Colombia (HK), El Salvador (YS), Iran (EP), Lebanon (JY), Lybia (5A), Paraguay (ZP) or Taiwan (BV), IRC are not accepted, there are stamped or not, and the only way to QSLing is direct sending to your recipient a SAE with 1 or 2 GS for the return, etc. So, when you are not 100% sure of a QSL route, send it direct with a SAE and 1 or 2 GS. You have all chances to succeed.
For your information, to send a QSL by airmail to Europe from the U.S.A., most european countries require $1 maximum (equivalent to 0.6 to 0.8 € in the other way depending on the country) but DL, OE, ON, OZ, F, LA, SM or TF for example require some more cents. Idem to send a QSL direct to CE, JA, LU, OA, XE or ZL for example which postage rate is a few cents over $1 from both the U.S.A. or Europe. Harold Bell, K4HB, keeps update on his website the current postage rates to most countries.
To read : Foreign postage rates, by K4HB
So for all those countries which postage rate is a little over $1 from oversea stations, from DL to ZL, if you receive their QSL direct back by airmail without surcharge although you only joined 1 GS, this is because your recipient had to put some cents from his pocket ...
Once from time to time each of us accept to pay the surcharge or even all the postage, and I did more than once, but 10 or 100 times there are matter to be irritated, mainly for a DX station receiving hundreds of QSLs each month... In other words this QSL you are waiting for impatiently will probably never be returned if you did not charge it sufficiently, or it will be sent "the best as possible", what means either via bureau if there is one, otherwise by ship.
Take the place of a QSL Manager ensuring this service for tens to maybe a hundred amateurs throughout the world. He would pay a fortune to answer the mail of hams and SWLs ignorant, off-hand or miserly who do not have taken the sorrow to join sufficient IRC or GS in their envelope.
At last, if you consider that your contact could take advantage of some more dollars for his personal use, do not hesitate. If you think about his live conditions or the one of his family, that can help them and will not deprive you of many things.
QSL recently received direct as I was impatient to get them...
The value of GS
If you send "green stamps" with your QSLs, the situation is sometimes special. In very poor countries of Minor Asia, like Iran, Iraq or further still, in Bengladesh or in Africa, not only the majority of these countries are in prey with political conflicts and serious socio-economical problems but locally the statute of the Post Office is sometimes undefined when their role is not associated to that of the censure or with Maffia in some cases.
In several Islamic countries (of Africa or in the Middle East) the simple fact of receiving a letter from the U.S.A. and in a lesser extent from Europe is already suspect. It is still more difficult when the Iranian post office receives a mail from Iraq for example. If your envelope is handwritting or contains money, if the postman does not observe it by transparency to detect the green stamp or coins inside, it will open it simply and will put your QSL in the trash can and will keep the remainder. So a good advice, when you must send GS do use an opaque envelope and insert your GS in the second and shorter or flipped envelope. I never had problems with those countries working this way.
So when an YL insists that you send your QSL for Iran to the american QSL manager and to never send it direct, without IRC nor GS, there is a good reason, other than to make profit. In case of doubt, send first an email to your addressee and check with him/her how to proceed in a secure way.
Generally speaking avoid also to write any call sign on envelopes. Many intermediates know the value that represents such a mail. In poor countries a call sign is immediately associated to dollars.
Hopefully, as I just told, usually the mail is safe and more than once I received my letter back with all its contents, including from the U.S.A. where an expensive parcel post containing an object in gold opened itself during the trip. I though it was stolen and I asked to my post office and the one of the receipient to enquiry about it. But a few months later (maybe 6 months or still longer) I received the package back from an US regional Post Office with a note explained what 's the matter.
The last time that my mail was returned, was when I asked for a russian award which postal address changed (CIS award addressed to Funkner family that is up to now suspended). My log was always inside the envelope as well as all IRC and GS I included. So as awards can cost up to $20 for Honor rolls, I suggest you to send first an email to your recipient in order to confirm his postal address. You will spare some time and maybe much money if the address does no more exist and if the content of your letter is stolen. A last advice, if you request for an award, if the recipient requests the log and QSLs as proof of contacts, send always these materials and money (IRC or even GS) by registered mail. That can help in case of problem.
We have also to mention those rare DX stations, counting usually among the most wanted, which country is very poor and lack of all resources, from communication aids to computers, and of course of money. In Solomon islands for example there are very few amateurs, like Sam, H44A but he cannot QSL due to a deep lack of infrastructure supporting his activity. Hopefully the situation improves.
When working on the air his DX is the source of heavy pile-ups and I heard him several time successfully. But do no try to send him your QSL with the hope to receive his one. He has no one to send you. If you really want to make something for him, send him rather some money or material to help him in his education project.
These few examples however, rather exceptional, must not leave you a taste of bitterness or let you think that all H4 hams call for help. Hopefully, if you like QSLs several other radio amateurs are active from H4 and exchange their QSL.
Some amateurs will even tell you that they don't need either GS nor IRC and they accept to exchange their QSL free with yours. Others send your GS back in your envelope or add freely local stamps to complete your kid's collection.
Remind you that QSLing via bureau is a service ensuring free by volunteers or sometimes by handicapped persons. They accomplish an ungrateful work, that not every body accept to do, and we can congratule them warmly for all the job they do in transiting our QSLs. I am very concerned by their job as I not only know their problems, but I personally have send via bureau several tens of thousands QSLs until now...
Our activity remains exciting and I believe that each of us can accept these rules if he relativizes a little his situation in respect to that one lived by amateurs in some countries politically very unstable or without the least resources. But it's another story. ST0RY ? QSL ? I did, Hi !
Now, to end this article, what must we do if we do no more want to send QSLs and GS to spare some money but if we want in the same time always have confirmation of our QSOs ? Impossible you say ? No more... Try LoTW !
LoTW, The Logbook of The World
A DX-pedition working over 70000 stations or even an amateur very active can be constraint to invest a lot of money in his QSLs (hundreds of dollars) and, and the end, will lose much time in confirming QSOs looking contacts in his log (even if it represents a part of the "fun" of this hobby).
To get awards, amateurs have to collect QSLs, checking "band-mode" counters without to be sure that his correspondent will return his QSL signed. if you don't use the "Direct" way, the confirmation waiting can last years.
To solve the problem of QSL costs, postage rates, and sometimes the low rate of return, in 2003 ARRL developed an electronic logbook system : "The Logbook of The World", alias LoTW. It is an electronic and secure logbook system that cross-checks and acknowledge submitted logbooks. To prevent any fraudulent usage, individual files are associated to an encryption system (private/public keys). Note that LoTW is not accessible to SWLs.
In the first month of activation in September 2003, 14 millions QSOs were added to the database. Today (2015) LoTW includes close to 700 million QSOs and more than 84000 call signs from 339 DXCC entities (see also stats maintained by HB9BZA).
However we must recognize that LoTW is used by 57% of US amateurs (remember that they represent 50% of the ham community too). Over 84000 individuals are participating in LoTW. This is estimated to be the majority of active DX-chasers.
But globally, the mean confirmation rate is only of 5-10%, growing over time, and specially from outside the U.S.A. That means that less than 10% of QSOs that you submit to LoTW are confirmed within the system. The remaining 90% has to be confirmed as usual, direct or via bureau. Note however that years running, most amateurs do no more QSL every QSO listed in their logbook. As noted Ward Silver, N0AX, contributing editor to QST, "if we did, the return rate would probably be comparable to the LoTW confirmation rate", what indeed we noticed in the introduction, although I think that his judgement is somewhat excessive.
Even if 5 or 10% of confirmation seems low - and it is -, there is a good news : some amateurs have successfully won their DXCC award and even 5BDXCC submitting their log solely to LoTW. Currently LoTW is only valid to get ARRL DXCC and 5BDXCC awards. Very soon will be added the WAS (Worked All States) and non-ARRL awards like CQ DX, IOTA and RSGB's, what will surely enhance LoTW participation to more non-US amateurs. And one day maybe, all awards of the world could be submitted via LoTW... Am I dreaming ? Who knows.
So, at the time of Internet, if you do no more want to lose you money and your time in filling out your QSLs (it is somewhere a pity for all QSL collectors), try LoTW. ARRL website will provide you all the information you need to install the program and certificates (encryption keys), and get confirmation of your QSOs. For your information QST magazine did a review of LoTW in its October 2003 and September 2005 issues.