Is it Time to Fire the Postman?

By Carl Weiss

As far back as the 19th century, when the telegraph came into vogue, people have been looking for a better way to deliver information and goods more efficiently than the US Postal Service. Today's wired world has created a myriad of electronic delivery systems that do everything from rendering payment, to delivering messages and even packages at the click of a mouse. In today’s blog, I intend to delve into a number of innovative, cost effective delivery options to the USPS, as well as the possibility that in the near future the post office could very well be as dead as the dodo bird.

They Don’t Call it Snail Mail for Nothing

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org
The US Postal Service can trace its roots back to the Second Continental Congress in 1775.  That’s when Ben Franklin, a prominent Philadelphia printer, was appointed as the country’s first Postmaster General.  Since that momentous occasion, the USPS staff has mushroomed to 717,254 federal employees, making it one of the nation’s largest employers.  In 2014, the USPS generated $67.8 billion in revenues.  That sounds impressive until you realize that it represented a $5.5 billion operating loss.  This seems odd when you consider the USPS operates a virtual monopoly when it comes to delivering letters.  Stranger still is the fact that the post office has downsized considerably during the past few years, closing a number of offices as well as reducing the hours they are open.  Of course, the USPS is and always has been a bureaucracy.  That explains a lot.

The real problem with the Post Office is that unlike the 19th and first half of the 20th century where it had little if any competition, by the latter part of the 20th century when package and overnight delivery was privatized, the days of the Post Office monopoly was over. But the USPS was still alive and kicking, if at a snail’s pace. (They don’t call it snail mail for nothing.)  Sure, since the late 1800’s people could use the telegraph and telegram to send messages quickly.  But when one considered the fact that Western Union charged by the word, the telegram was more like Twitter than traditional correspondence.  Short copy was the norm.  Then came the Internet. 

We Don’t Need No Stinking Postage

By the mid 1990’s, digital technology such as fax and email began to slowly but surely erode the postal service’s hegemony.  Why wait days to deliver the message when anyone with a phone and a modem could send pages replete with photos across the telephone wires in minutes.  (Today we can do this in seconds, but remember how slow dialup connections once were.)
Courtesy of comons.wikimedia.org

Suddenly you didn’t need to pay for postage to send letters, flyers and ad copy across town or around the world. (Spam was born.)  All it took was type, point and click.  Add to this the fact that within the past few years, most businesses and banks have adopted electronic payment systems that allow customers to remit payment at the click of a mouse and it makes the USPS seem a lot like its predecessor, the Pony Express

Yet the Post Office still plods on. A number of tech companies such as Netflix still rely on the USPS to ship their products, as do a myriad of other advertisers, many of which we regard as junk mail.  However, as competition grows and technology makes much of what the USPS does seem redundant, will there come a time when the public, not to mention the federal government decides it’s time to put the Postal Service out of its misery?  A quote from Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

"Since the 2006 all-time peak mail volume,[5] after which Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act,[6] (which mandated $5.5 billion per year to be paid into an account to fully prefund employee retirement health benefits, a requirement exceeding that of other government and private organizations [7]), revenue dropped sharply due to recession-influenced[8] declining mail volume,[9] prompting the postal service to look to other sources of revenue while cutting costs to reduce its budget deficit.[10] The USPS lost US$5.5 billion in fiscal 2014, and its revenue was US$67.8 billion."

Whoa Nelly! I can hear those telegraph operators of yesteryear crying the blues.  Not only have private shipping concerns such as UPS and FedEx continued to chip away at USPS market share, but other major players such as Amazon want in on the action. (Can you say same-day drone delivery?)  Being that neither timeliness nor cost-effectiveness has never been one of the Post Office’s priorities, as innovative companies continue to reel in more and more of the fish that USPS once had all to itself, at what point will the feds declare it time to abandon ship? 
Courtesy of  en.wikipedia.org

In a blog on Fox News, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stated that,
“Amazon delivery drones are still years away, but someday they will be as common as seeing a mail truck. Bezos told the Telegraph in London that the biggest hurdle Prime Air has to clear isn’t related to technology, but regulators.”

Of course, with other bureaucrats such as the FAA, running interference for the Post Office, they might be able to delay the inevitable for a time.  And since the US Postal Service has never been one to innovate since Ben Franklin stepped down from office, far from looking for new sources of revenue, it will face an ever shrinking customer base.  Combined with bureaucratic bloat and an unwillingness to face the fiscal realities of running a business, the sheer cost of running a dysfunctional shipping conglomerate will inevitably spell disaster. (Or, they can simply print an adhesive strip on the back of a $1 bill.)  As with other bygone technologies, the question is not whether the Post Office can survive change, but when will it be time to Fire the Postman? 

In this article I have discussed the US Postal Service and how this massive governmental bureaucracy is not only losing money, it is losing ground as a mail deliver system. The massive losses are causing the public and congress to rethink the USPS's role and whether it should be privatized.

If you found this article useful please share it with your friends, family and co-workers. If you would like to learn more about this subject, visit the notes page on this blog for the BlogTalkRadio show dated 8/18/15. I recommend checking out "How to Stop Sir Spamalot", "How to Avoid Being Caught in an SEO Phishing Netor "Going Postal - With Touch Marketing".  You can also search for other related articles by typing in “email” in the search box top of this blog.

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Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.

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2 comments:

  1. Its still nice to get a card or letter in the mail - something about it just makes it seem special and personal. Personally, I think the USPS is here to stay, at least well into the foreseeable future.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We live in the communication age. How lucky are we that we have so many options to reach one another?

    ReplyDelete