Publishers need to act before it is all too late.
Eventually, whether we like it or not, the post office as we know it will all but disappear. Not just the USPS, but the Royal Mail, Canada Post and just about every other postal service around the world. Some will survive, but that will reflect more on the lack of technological services in the countries concerned, not on the service the particular national postal service provides.
There is talk here in the United States of raising the price of a stamp from $0.46 to $0.49 to increase revenue. The problem is, the increase will almost certainly have the opposite effect.
Not so long ago, our household used to spend $4.29 a month on postage, now it is $0.46 so as the Post Office increased its prices expecting more revenue, our contribution dropped by $3.83 a month. The only reason we pay one bill a month by post is because the payee does not accept payments online – yet – but they will, they'll have to. If the Post Office is losing $3.83 a month from our family, you can multiply that by over a hundred million other families.
As publishers, we are acutely aware of the digital element in our industry. From the way articles are filed, to layout, printing and delivery, the computer has had a major effect.
True, the delivery of digital publications is still very small, just over 3% according to audit statements recently released, but here’s the thing. If the Post Office raises rates, publishers will go fully digital in droves because they will pass the increase on to the reader and what a reader will pay has its limits. As more and more of our lives are taken over by the computer, those of us who prefer “print” will have no choice in the end, if for no other reason than the cost to print a magazine will become prohibitive. The cost per thousand to print anything decreases the more there is to print, so as the number of magazines to be printed gets smaller, the print cost will increase. Take this to a logical conclusion; eventually publishers will not be able to afford to produce the very product they are selling except in electronic format.
There are only two ways you can make a company profitable, either increase revenue, or decrease cost. If you have reached the limit of what people will pay for your product, you have to cut the costs. How could the USPS do it? Every mail carrier has a route, the same route every day, why not simply deliver to the whole route on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and half the route on Tuesday and the other half on Thursday? Most offices are closed on Saturday, and there is no mail I get on Saturday that could not wait until Monday, so get rid of the Saturday delivery.
The USPS, and any other mail providers, public or private, provides a service, and if you price that service too high, people will find an alternative. In the magazine world, the alternative is already in place. Every invoice I receive urges me to “go green” which is petty much a joke, or points out the benefit to me of getting my invoice online, or emailed to me.
Since we learned to communicate with each other, the urge to share has existed. Cave paintings exist from thousands of years ago in many parts of the world, sharing news and views of the day. The Post Office is just an extension of the urge to share information and will eventually be replaced. It’s only a question of when and increasing the cost of a stamp will only hasten its demise.
Whatever happens to the USPS is ultimately not up to anyone employed by that organization, the decision is made by the U.S. Congress. Perhaps it is about time publishers and printers across the land help publishing lobbyists before it is all too late, because if publishers don’t, the USPS will not be the only ones out of business.