With more people sending email and texts instead of letters and cards, and more bills being paid electronically as well, there's been a 20% drop in the volume of mail between 2006's record (213 billion pieces of mail processed) and last year (177 billion, according to Dennis Tarmey, a service spokesman).
Expectations that delivery from online retailers such as Amazon (AMZN) would make up for the trend haven't been met, and Netflix (NFLX) didn't help things with its 60% price increase and subsequent loss of hundreds of thousands of subscribers this quarter, only 2% less among those who only stream video and a whopping 27% less of those getting discs delivered.
That's a lot fewer red envelopes being picked up and dropped off by mail carriers.And those who think the whole economy suffers when there's "uncertainty" will find big cause for pessimism from the proposals that U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe is making to right his agency's money troubles: Closing up to 3,700 postal locations before 2015 as well as 252 mail-processing centers -- that's about half of all mail-processing centers; laying off up to 120,000 workers; and ending overnight delivery time for most first-class mail (which includes letters, magazines and postcards). It's usually called "snail mail" for laughs, but these changes could very well contribute to a death spiral. The slower and less reliable the delivery, after all, the less anyone will want to use the service, which will lead to further cuts, and raising prices for whatever users remain is a nonstarter for the same reasons. Meanwhile, it'll be harder to find a post office. Tarmey says there were 71,000 of them back in 1900, when the population was less than 100 million, compared with only 32,000 post offices now that we're a population of more than 300 million. Losing another 12% of those in the next three years isn't going to help. So looking into the far future, less and slower mail delivery could result in a bricks-and-mortar retail renaissance, since no one wants to wait very long for their Zappos to arrive or pay UPS- or FedEx-level rates to get their shoes as fast as we can now, essentially for free. And what people are charged for mail by for-profit deliverers such as UPS (UPS - Get Report) and FedEx (FDX - Get Report) is only going to soar with the disappearance of the Postal Service, a government-owned corporation. Looking at standard overnight costs among those three services, "the Postal Service was the least expensive by far for local and long-distance deliveries," Consumer Reports found. In its test of overnight delivery from one side of the country to the other, for instance, the Postal Service asked $16.50 for the same results as what testers got for $62.87 from UPS and $54.57 from FedEx. How is that possible? "We have an infrastructure in place and letter carriers everywhere," spokeswoman Yvonne Yoerger told Consumer Reports. "We're simply adding package delivery to a network that already exists." Well, that won't be the case soon. But, hey! Why be so serious? The collapse of our national infrastructure is still months away. While we wait, why not look at some ways the Postal Service can save itself, and us, from all the cutbacks and bad news? Here are some sure-fire money-raising ideas that, if adopted, will keep the mail flowing and prevent a whole nation from going postal: