Postal Reform: Yea or Nay?
When I first started out in magazine editing 14 years ago, one of my tasks as a junior editor was to open the mail. It actually was a line item on my job description, because the duty was no small feat back then.
Each day a hearty gentleman from our mail room would heave onto my desk a mail crate stuffed with press releases, flyers, letters to the editor and other mail. Back then I opened about 100 pieces of mail a day and rerouted each to the appropriate editor, our files or the trash.
Today, however, I get a tiny folder of mail, maybe a dozen pieces a day. But my e-mail inbox is frightening. I get about 150 e-mails a day, everything from inter-office memos, notes from the staff, letters from readers, press releases from vendors and catalogers — along with my requisite share of spam, of course.
My intent is not to complain about e-mail, but to highlight a problem that has far-reaching repercussions for the catalog industry: namely, the dwindling volume of U.S. mail and its domino-like impact on the mailing community.
In some ways, the mail system is like healthcare insurance. Less people contributing means those few who remain (read: direct marketers) pay more. And indeed, Postmaster General John Potter already is warning of another rate increase in 2006.
The postal reform bills circulating in Congress at press time (early June) should offer some relief for mailers and the USPS, but of course, they’re not panaceas for all that ails. For instance, according to the Associated Press, Potter is warning about a measure that, if enacted, would require the USPS to pre-pay health benefits for retirees. He says such a provision would cost the agency $3.9 billion in 2006 and would add 6.5 percent to first-class mail rates. Moreover, Potter says, the bills don’t adequately address the issue of pricing flexibility for certain USPS services such as package delivery. This, he notes, could compel shippers to switch to other carriers, thus contributing to the agency’s downward volume spiral.