“The USPS is moving forward on a plan to offer magazine subscriptions for sale on usps.com,” says Idealliance’s summary of the recent Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), a joint USPS-mailers groups. “Also, the USPS and mailers are developing a plan to have posters in retail sites with QR codes and other ways of linking to magazine subscriptions.”
When the idea originally surfaced at an MTAC meeting early this year, it included selling subscriptions in post office lobbies, as stores including Best Buy do at checkout. But setting up such a program for hundreds or even thousands of publications might not be worth the effort. It will be easier to test the QR-code posters in select locations.
Postal officials’ interest in promoting magazines may seem odd in light of the Postal Service’s claim that the Periodicals class is its most unprofitable type of mail. But that supposed unprofitability is the result of allocations for fixed costs, some questionable cost accounting, and perhaps handling costs that are unique to newspapers and not magazines.
There doesn’t seem to be much question that delivering more magazines would be beneficial for USPS. And magazine subscriptions also lead to additional mail that is more profitable, such as invoices and renewal notices.
But having the Postal Service sell magazine subscriptions also raises some thorny issues:
- Will there be complaints that USPS is using its monopoly power to compete unfairly with businesses like subscription agents and Amazon?
- Will the subscription offers only be for the ink-on-paper versions of the magazines, or will combined print-and-digital packages be allowed? How about electronic-only subscriptions?
- Will publishers have to pay a fee to have their magazines featured on the QR posters? Will the Postal Service get a cut of the subscription revenues?
- If a magazine distributes some of its subscriber copies via means other than the mail, will it still be eligible for the program?
- What about newspapers that are delivered primarily by mail? They will complain vociferously if they are excluded.
- Should people who buy subscriptions via USPS still “expect six to eight weeks for delivery”?