Until recently, Postal Service executives talked about periodicals as “the anchor in the mailbox.” But lately, says one publishing executive, it seems that “the USPS just tied us to the anchor and threw it overboard.”
With the demise of “Aunt Minnie mail” (personal letters), USPS officials talked about magazines and newspapers as the key to “the mailbox moment” when people excitedly check their mail. But in recent months publishers have grown increasingly nervous about their reliance on a nearly insolvent Postal Service that seems ready to jettison them, including a recent proposal to abolish the Periodicals class altogether.
“What’s a publisher to do when the mailbox is in danger of collapse?” the MPA (AKA The Association of Magazine Media) asks in a description of its Feb. 2 Postal Summit. The brochure reflects what seems to be the entire magazine industry’s feelings about USPS these days -- and why publishers everywhere are saying, “How the hell do we get more of our subscribers switched over from print to the iPad, or the Nook, or whatever?”
“Bankrupt. Bailout. Broken business model. Words once used to describe Wall Street are now regularly linked to the United States Postal Service, the medium by which ninety percent of magazines are delivered.” That’s a lead-in to Postmaster General Pat Donahoe’s speech on “What Does a Modern USPS Look Like?”
One session will address the question, “How do our magazines get delivered by a smaller, slower and potentially more expensive Postal Service?” The brochure states that “As the Postal Service retools for the future, service and prices as we know them could be radically different. New entry and delivery timelines could radically change the magazine production schedule – earlier editorial deadlines, printing schedules – the works.”
More than any other USPS customers, publishers are feeling under the gun because USPS claims it loses money on the Periodicals class. Its latest numbers show that Periodicals revenue covered only 74.9% of the class’s costs in Fiscal Year 2011, down slightly from 75.4% in FY2010.
Another session will focus on the 10 Percent – the magazines not delivered by USPS. “For some titles, the changing Postal Service may no longer be the ideal method of delivery, leading publishers to consider alternatives.”
There’s no mention in the program of the Flats Sequencing System (FSS), which many in the magazine industry once hoped would help the Periodicals class’s profitability. Publishers have faced too many delayed deliveries and damaged copies caused by what some call the Flats Shredding System to have much faith in that solution any more.