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To Post or Not To Post

If you’ve missed this report in the news feeds, here it is. It seems that the powers that be are contemplating a complete closure of the postal system. Yes, folks, the USPS is under scrutiny for more than paltry stamps.

The projected deficit for the agency for 2011 is between $9-11 Billion. Somehow, I don’t think adding another two cents to the cost of a stamp is going to offset that figure. Use of snail mail is down significantly with the increasing use of FAX and the internet. More businesses are doing business online. One of the few props to the system now is bulk mail (better known as JUNK MAIL.) And we all just love getting junk mail, don’t we?

Hundreds of little postal stations have already been put on the chopping block, leaving tiny communities across the country without a nearby Post Office. Many larger stations have gone to a reduced number of delivery days to defray costs.

The reports of the past few months about the state of the USPS have left me with a question or two of my own. If you’ve been around this blog often, you already knew there were questions coming, didn’t you? This time, though, the questions are strictly for the publishing industry/

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the USPS does, indeed, end operations. Where does that leave today’s publishing industry?

Many publishers, both for magazines and books, do not accept electronic submissions, and I can understand that. On the publisher’s side there is the cost of downloading a book manuscript to hard copy, sent by a writer that isn’t already on the payroll. That slush pile will get awfully slim. The publisher will have decide whether getting potential blockbusters from an electronic slush pile outweighs the cost of making hard copies.

Granted, many of those same publishers have already begun using electronic ARCs for reviewers to their new releases as a way to make the bottom line healthier. As a part-time reviewer, I see both sides of the equation on this decision. I love having the “real” book in my hands when I read. At the same time, I don’t have to wait for the delivery of my copy of a book to get out a quicker review. The ARC becomes available immediately; I download, and begin reading that same day. I even get notices when to look over the entrees for choice.

Many authors  have received electronic contracts for a few years now. Email and faxing have made this practice painless and cost-effective for both parties.

Magazine publishers may have a much harder decision to make than mere slush piles, however. While many print magazines accept only electronic submissions, others continue with only postal submissions or they accept both. Without the USPS those magazines that prefer hardcopy will find none in the mailbox. They will either have to hire IT people to create a new online system of submission for them, expect writers to send manuscripts via UPS or some other carrier, or stop publishing altogether if they don’t have a team of in-house writers.

Add to those considerations that print magazines rely on USPS for delivery of their issues to subscribers. Without postal delivery print magazines couldn’t arrive fresh and glossy for a subscriber’s squeal of delight and perusal. Online magazines would be the only option, unless they all went to quarterly or less frequent issuance and delivered by UPS. Somehow, I’m not fond of that scenario, either.

Personally, I won’t believe that the industry is ignoring this situation. Technology and how we use it are changing faster than many can keep up. Just because books have been around for centuries or more doesn’t mean that the process of writing and manufacturing them has remained static. I also don’t know that I’d want to be privy to some of those publishing house board meetings while they’re discussing this issue. Not a pretty sight, I’d imagine.

The USPS is reportedly praying that the federal government will bail them out. Given that the PO hasn’t operated in the black in my lifetime and things don’t look much rosier for the future of snail mail vs. the internet, I can’t believe the government will sink more money in the postal Titanic any time soon; especially with our economy in the tank. Then again, if those hundreds of thousands of postal workers hit the unemployment lines, we have to ask if the country is any better off.

You see the dilemma, I’m sure. The problem for the publishing industry centers on reading the tea leaves to decide how long we will continue to prop up the USPS vs. the cost of revamping how publishers do business with writers, illustrators, agents, etc.

Now it’s your turn to study the runes. What can you foresee on both sides of this economic coin? How will closure of the USPS affect you, other than your use of Holiday Cards, Birthday Cards, etc.? Let me know what you see as a possible outcome. Think about all those industries that rely on USPS being there and working each day.

Until then, a bientot,

Claudsy

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  1. September 13, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Interesting article, and baffling questions. If our USPS does indeed shut down, the “industry” will need to find ways to cope. My guess is that Fed Ex and UPS will need to step up to the plate as well, and modify/increase their services.

    And here’s another dilemma: For those who can afford a stamp to mail checks to pay their bills, but can’t afford a computer with internet service to pay online … where would the closing of our USPS leave them?

    Interesting stuff, Clauds.

    • claudsy
      September 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks, Marie. Most people will never stop to consider such ramifications. It’s too bad. Whether USPS closes or not, the financial and social burden will be paid by all of us and in ways that most would never conceive until it happens.

      You, at leastk, considered one small ramification, but also one that truly impacts those who can’t afford the gas to drive into town for an extra errand, or those who are shut-ins, etc.

  2. September 14, 2011 at 10:03 am

    I’m not too surprised by this, considering we haven’t gotten much in the way of “real” service from the postal system in some time. I AM surprised at their shortfall of so many billions of dollars. It makes one wonder, doesn’t it, if maybe there wasn’t some kind of hanky-panky going on at the top?

    As to what it means: UPS and FED-EX will be hiring many more drivers to drive the many more trucks that will have to be built to take care of the many more routes that will be created. Thus, many more jobs will also be created. Plus, more people who work in the UPS and FED-EX routing stations will have to be hired, more pilots for the planes, meaning possibly more planes will have to be built. Put it all together, and you have a great plan for creating an enormous multitude of jobs. BUT! more jobs means more payload which in turn means more/higher charges for services rendered. A good and a bad dilemma which isn’t going to be solved easily.

    • claudsy
      September 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      There are indeed many factors to consider in this one issue. And while some jobs would be created, the load of jobs lost would probably override those new ones. I’m curious to see whether the multi-billion dollar balloon payment the USPS has coming due on the 30th will be made without an emergency bail-out from the feds.

      We’ll all just have to wait and see how this new quagmire dries up.

      Thanks, Mikki. It’s always good to witness your insights in action.

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