The U.S. Postal Service’s annual postage increase takes effect today, but the increase will not be enough to make the postal budget work. The problem is the volume of mail.
In the past, mail volume only went up, but with electronic communication gaining, mail had to decline eventually. After it reached a peak around November 2007, it seems as if the decline is hitting all at once. With personal letters moving to social network web sites, bills going out and being paid on company web sites, postage rates for parcels now too high to ship most things that used to be sold online, and advertising budgets being cut, the volume of mail has fallen about 19 percent from its peak. And with postage rates going up again (and BMG Music Service shutting down), mail volume is certain to fall farther between now and next year.
To cut costs, the USPS is considering cutting back on mail delivery from six days a week to five. But with technological trends working against the mail, I would urge it to consider a much bigger cutback, to three days a week.
Perhaps that’s easy for me to say. My mailbox is empty at least once a week as it is, now that banks are not sending out so many credit card offers. But really, what do you get in the mail that couldn’t wait until the next day?
Besides, with five delivery days, more than half of the mail that matters is delivered on Monday, or Tuesday if Monday is a holiday. It’s just advertising circulars and dribs and drabs for the rest of the week anyway, so there isn’t that much delivery lost by cutting back on that part of the week.
Cutting back on delivery is not enough by itself to balance the postal budget, but it would help. Just continuing to raise postage rates won’t get it done, and the postal service’s plans to raise mail volume by advertising more are, in a word, sad. We have to start figuring out where mail fits in in a world where it is no longer the primary way to reach most people. I am certain there is a place for it, but that place might be smaller than in the past.