For every dollar it spends on delivering newspapers and magazines, USPS claims it only receives 75 cents in postage. Meanwhile, notes the Columbia Journalism Review (in Postage due: The USPS is running out of money. Where does that leave magazines?), magazine publishers are growing worried about the increase in customer complaints regarding lost, damaged, and late issue. They fear coming changes will only make matters worse.
New interest in bypassing the Postal Service by using private delivery services was much in evidence at a recent magazine-industry summit, CJR reports.
But publishers also pointed out a major barrier to private delivery: Their subscribers want “to get their magazines in their mailboxes, rather than tossed at the end of the driveway like a newspaper. By law, only the USPS can put mail in mailboxes.”
Maybe the Postal Service would be better off loosening its grip on the mailbox monopoly by granting an exception for periodicals. (After all, whoever heard of a money-losing monopoly?) Not only would the agency lose unprofitable customers, it could actually charge the publishers a fee for each mailbox they use.
Allowing delivery only to paying subscribers and restricting the use of loose inserts could prevent the mailbox privilege from siphoning off profitable postal business.
A tougher problem to control would be cherry picking – publishers using private delivery only for densely populated neighborhoods that are easy to serve, leaving the high-cost areas to the Postal Service.
Then there’s the question of what “cost” means in Postalspeak. If the Postal Service says it costs 35 cents to deliver a particular magazine, how much will it save if it doesn’t have to handle that magazine?
Probably much less than 35 cents. A lot of that 35 cents is an allocated portion of expenses that exist regardless of whether the magazine is delivered.
But permanently losing a sizeable chunk of the labor-intensive Periodicals Class business might be enough to move the cost needle. That's especially true as USPS downsizes and shifts toward a flexible workforce, which should make its costs more sensitive to mail volumes.
What's clear is that the current arrangement is not working for the Postal Service or for many publishers.
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