On the economics of DXpedition QSL Cards

Over recent years more than occasional comment has been made by some DXers about whether QSL Managers make money from sending out QSL cards. Obviously, not all DXpeditions have the same policies but a year after the VP2MUW expedition, here’s how our QSL finances stack up.

Important note: I’m writing this in the interests of transparency on the topic following a few very emotive posts and policies from some DXpeditions. This is certainly not an appeal for money, and I don’t propose to suddenly increase the amount I ask for, nor do I wish to dissuade you from asking for a card if you want it!

QSL cards for VP2MUW

Most people request direct cards via OQRS. Until April 2019, the cost of an international stamp from the UK was £1.25. It was then increased to £1.35. (These international stamps cover 20g to Europe or 10g to anywhere else, which is sufficient to post a QSL card).

In turn, I asked for £1.80 for direct cards until April 2019, and then £1.90 thereafter. This means I was asking for 45p per card more than the postage price. That 45p needs to cover the card printing, labels for the QSO information and address label, an envelope, and, of course, Paypal fees. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t) – Oh, and due to a complete failure to account for Paypal fees on my part, I actually only charged £1.60 for cards until January 2019, which includes the bulk of cards ordered immediately after the trip.

I have sent 206 direct VP2MUW QSL cards (ie. 206 different recipients – there is more than one QSO on each card) so far. Here’s how the outgoings stack up for those cards:

Stamps (UK)36£0.56£20.16
Stamps (International)155£1.25£193.75
Stamps (International)15£1.35£20.25
Card printing206£0.042£8.65
PayPal fees206£0.31£63.86
Total cost to me:£344.58

Note: It’s difficult to extract from Paypal exactly how much you have spent in fees for a given period. The £63.86 shown here is an estimate based on their standard rates, across all the payments I received. It’s almost certainly an underestimate because it doesn’t account for the voluntary donations, which will also have attracted a percentage charge.

By asking for £1.60-£1.90 per card, I received £196.70 in total, meaning that sending direct cards made me a loss of 72p per card. (There will also have been a few ‘green stamps’ and pre-stamped envelopes mailed to me, but I’ve ignored those as I don’t have exact records of these. They are certainly a small number, however, as OQRS is the main way I am asked for direct cards.) Fortunately, we have some very generous people in the hobby, so I received an additional £105.20 in voluntary donations. These donations help offset that loss, reducing it to 21p/card.

However, we haven’t discussed bureau cards yet. I don’t get any money for those. I’ve so far sent 630 cards via the bureau. Luckily, these only need one mailing label each, so:

Card printing630£0.042£36.54
Total cost to me:£63.00

There’s then the cost of sending the cards to the bureau to consider. This is more difficult for me to judge as each QSL card batch I send contains cards for multiple expeditions but I’d estimate I have spent about £20 on bureau postage for the VP2MUW cards alone during this year.

If we take £83 as the total cost to me of sending bureau cards, the final amounts look like this:

Direct cards£196.70Direct card costs:£344.58
Donations£105.20Bureau card costs:£83.00
Loss per card:£0.15

For the benefit of an American audience, here’s a conversion to dollars:

Direct cards$253.74Direct card costs$444.50
Donations$135.71Bureau card costs$107.07
Loss per card:$0.19

6 thoughts on “On the economics of DXpedition QSL Cards

  1. A dozen years back (give or take) I went to Mozambique. Kept serious track of my QSLing, how much I spent, how much was donated, etc. Definitely NOT a money-making venture.

    Several years ago my wife (N4BU) and I rented a cottage in Turks & Caicos Islands. Same thing. The part that was really a pain was the bureau! About outlived its usefulness I think.

  2. Hi Dom

    Very useful and sensible analysis, supporting what I worked out long ago!

    I have up using labels long ago. Print thinner cards and print direct. It also saves all that “sticking ” time

    Also I do question the value of a colour photo type card. Use the web for pictires and have a plain black on white card

    73 Fred

  3. There’s no reason you should be suffering a loss for someone else’s desire for a printed card, especially in the age of LoTW. In days gone by, the bureau card was the staple of budget confirmation; today it’s LoTW. For those who want a direct card they need to pay you what it costs to print and mail, with maybe a tiny bit extra to help cover your various other QSLing costs.

    I seriously doubt anybody who wants a direct card would have a problem with a reasonable fee, and if they do, then there’s always the bureau or LoTW. An even £2 or £2.10 should cover it.

  4. Great QSL analysis Dom.

    As a DX qrp op the numbers tend to be even worse. I pulled apart the costs of the last C5 & C6 trips. For KH8 & E5 trips the air fares and other logistics costs alone totally outstripped anything I might have had as a donation (which wasn’t even enough to cover the QSL costs) I never asked anywhere for assistance, not that a qrp op tends to get anything anyway but I knew that going in.

    Just like you QSO were costing me quite a bit more per qsl card request. I seem to recall a talk one of the big DXpeds had been asking for $10 per card that helped to cover those logistics costs as well!


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