Why We Should Give a Damn About Saving the USPS
It’s not the Postal Service that failed us—it’s Congress.
"Print is dead." I hear it all the time. People love to say it. "No one reads magazines anymore."
Here’s the thing, though: Print isn’t dead—at least not yet. Digital is growing at an aggressive rate, but it hasn’t obliterated print. In fact, according to a recent survey by AdWeek, 98.6 percent of all magazine consumption is still rooted in print. And with the majority of magazine readers reading print, then publishers still need to be concerned with mailing a print product—even if it feels like the U.S. Postal Service can’t get it together.
It’s not the USPS that failed us—it’s Congress. The USPS can’t make any major moves without its approval. We’ve all read the stories—the USPS isn’t really broke; it’s just been mandated by congress that it pre-fund future retiree health benefits, which costs the USPS over $5 billion per year. This is something no other federal agency is required to do; in fact, even few corporate plans are fully-prefunded. Esquire, Forbes and even my publication, The Nation have all covered it. And Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are jointly sponsoring legislation which would reverse the mandate.
See, the discounted rates to mail magazines weren’t created to support the Publishers Clearinghouses of the world. They were set up as a tactical way to honor the freedom of the press and to give a price break to media outlets educating the public. But let’s be honest: The way Congress has screwed up its oversight of the USPS does not instill confidence in its commitment to a free press.
Let me be clear: Just because Congress has turned the USPS into a model of inefficiency does not mean that I support privatization (especially considering the economic impact of potentially lost jobs, and also the reliance of private companies like UPS on the USPS for delivery of non-USPS items). What it means is that we should treat the USPS like any other company that is faced with necessary changes. Let’s remove the $5.5 billion/year roadblock to let it do its job and grow. Let’s support a Congress that values a free press; that isn’t focusing on slash-and-burn techniques to save the institution, but rather gives it room to adapt; that reinvigorates the USPS’s role in American communities, rural and urban.
Publishers need to care because people still read print. At the gym, on the subway, in bed. For every 1 Alec Baldwin who refuses to turn off his cell after being asked by the flight attendant (full disclosure: I’m watching 30 Rock as I write this), there are, like, 800,000 other people who rely on print magazines during take-off and landing. These are people who identify with a brand—print or digital—and who read whatever is convenient in the moment. For everyone following TSA regulations, that would be print. And it’s the publishers’ job to engage people with their brand, not with a device.
Is print going to be around forever? I have no idea. As long as it is around, it is my responsibility to produce and deliver it as efficiently as possible, and to treat print readers the same as digital and mobile ones. My role with a publisher is to market the brand, not the delivery. And if people want their magazine delivered to their doorstep? Then I need to make sure it gets there.