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Every day, someone comes to my house and drops off a bunch of garbage.
It’s commonly called “the mail.” And, yes, it’s not all garbage. That would be convenient. You could just confidently toss it all. If you do that, though, you might throw away a jury summons or health insurance card. And god forbid you throw away a health insurance card.
No, you have to keep most of the pile until you have time to sift through it. What builds up is affectionately known, in my house, as the Mail Monster.
My wife hates the Mail Monster. You should hear the noise she makes when she decides to tackle it.
Even worse, as my colleague Andrew Keatts noted, if you happen to have just one of those door slots, every day a stranger literally dumps a pile of garbage on your living room floor.
It’s a constitutionally mandated service of the American government to trash your house.
I kid the Post Office. To be clear, I’ve never met a rude letter carrier and I still do think it’s amazing I can send something across the country so quickly. I don’t want it to go away.
But the garbage is maddening. And it’s gotten me to pay a lot more attention to the Post Office’s giant deficit, reform efforts and the future of the service.
Which is why I perked up when I got the news release earlier this week from U.S. Reps. Scott Peters and Susan Davis. Peters and Davis wanted to tout Davis’ bill that would protect doorstep delivery of all this garbage.
You see, the Post Office is in trouble. Big trouble. Peters and Davis wanted to scare you about what efforts to reform it might do. Here was their statement:
Postal reform efforts in both the House and Senate call for the elimination of door delivery over the next six years. Instead of getting mail at their door, residents would be forced to pick up their mail at shared cluster boxes, many of which are in unsecure locations, poorly maintained and far from people’s homes.
Gah! People might have to do what apartment dwellers and many others have had to do forever. They might actually be forced to interact with their neighbors. Nobody tell Peters and Davis what people in rural areas have to do to get their mail.
The reform efforts they’re talking about are being led in part by cross-town rival, Rep. Darrell Issa.
But it’s not true that all residents would be forced to go to cluster boxes. Issa’s office says the Post Office estimated — “back of the envelope” (seriously, that’s what Issa’s team said) — that only 50 percent would go to cluster boxes. The other 50 would have to move their mailboxes to the curb.
Here was Issa’s response to his colleagues:
The Postal Reform Act specifically protects seniors and those with hardships keep mail delivery at their doors, and maintains curbside delivery service. Contrary to members’ allegations today, the bill gives the Postal Service the flexibility to make decisions free of congressional mandates about to how best serve their customers.
You wouldn’t think just moving mailboxes from your front porch to the curb is that big of a deal. But it is.
Here was CNN breaking down the cost differences:
It costs $353 per stop for a delivery in most American cities, taking into account such things as salaries and cost of transport. By contrast, curbside mail box delivery costs $224, while cluster boxes cost $160, according to a report from the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General.
It would cost the Post Office —$100 for my family if they let me pay them to stop coming. Seriously, I’d gladly drop $100 a year for something that let only health insurance cards and birthday wishes come across.
But that’s not the business model of the future for the Post Office.
They’ve decided to challenge newspapers in a death match on the deck of a sinking ship.
Newspapers have been ravaged by internet disruption. They lost classified ads. They lost regular ads. Now, despite a growing economy, their revenue chart still looks terrifying. Their last bastion is the insert.
You know, those glossy inserts that fall out of the big, Sunday papers.
Here’s how NYU’s Clay Shirky put it:
Print ads are essential revenue for most papers. Retail ads are essential for print. Sunday is essential for retail. Inserts are essential for Sundays. The base of that entire inverted pyramid is being supported by the marketing departments of no more than a couple dozen national advertisers.
Those advertisers already have one foot out the door, having abandoned the idea that ads have to be printed inside the paper to reach their audience. CVS and Best Buy have so little connection to the papers they ride along with that they don’t even bother printing the addresses of their local outlets anymore. (You can always find that information online.) From the advertiser’s point of view, the nation’s newspapers have become little more than a blue-bag delivery service, with a horoscope and enough local sports inside to get people to open the bag.
Inserts are one of the last sources of advertising to resist digitization.
And the Post Office is resisting digitization. Win, win!
Jeff Jarvis, also an academic in New York, made this connection. He predicted inserts would go away soon. Many to the Post Office:
“At the PostalVision2020 conference a year ago, the postmaster general described the entire business model of the United States Post Service as an advertising delivery medium; it will compete with newspapers for those last printed circulars and coupons and it is just as desperate for them,” he wrote.
Peters and Davis want those who have the luxury of having all this advertising dropped on their living room floor to keep it. Issa wants them to have to walk at least to their curb to get their advertising.
Unfortunately, none of them will let me pay to get rid of it.