Is Email Killing the Post Office?

    May 29, 2011
    Chris Crum

Is email killing the post office? It’s not a new question. In fact, it’s been around nearly as long as the mainstream use of email itself, but it’s also not gone away, and the USPS has seen better days. I’m not normally one to buy too much into the typical x is killing y kind of hype, but the Postal Service is clearly severely injured.

Do you think email is killing the post office, or at least contributing to its demise? Share your thoughts here.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek has put out a lengthy report looking at the decline of the USPS and its contributing factors. While the seven-page pice just briefly touches upon the subject of email, comparing the performance of the USPS to that of FedEx, UPS, and DHL, as well as counterparts in other countries, there’s no question that email and online communication in general have done their fair share of damage.

People have been using email for years now, and despite some predicting the death of email (at the hands of social media), it’s clear that it’s hear to stay for quite some time. Even if email were to die, it wouldn’t do much to help the postal service.

As we’ve seen just in the past week alone, email is an incredibly important part of business for companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Twitter. Even Facebook has its own email now, and social networks all still rely on email to keep users engaged – that goes for the professionals too (ie: the newly public LinkedIn).

In a recent study, 45% said that their use of email at work will most likely increase in the next five years. 51% said that it would likely stay the same. Only 4% thought it would decrease. At home, 36% of those surveyed thought their email use will increase, 55% said it will stand pat and 6% said it will likely decrease.

The majority of important online communication still takes place through email, whether that be B2B or B2C. C2C online communication may be trending more toward social media, but again, email still plays a role here, in terms of notifications, and there is still plenty of C2C communication through email. Even from heavy users of social media. Not everyone is on the same social network. That even goes for Facebook. Email is universal. You pretty much need an email address to have any kind of account online.

The rise of mobile, and smartphones in particular, must also play a role, as it caters to increased use in email and social media, not to mention text messaging, and even….the phone call! The point is, communication is always as close as your pocket. It’s a lot easier and cheaper (at least on an individual interaction basis) than writing letters. And it’s in real time.

“With the rise of e-mail and the decline of letters, mail volume is falling at a staggering rate, and the postal service’s survival plan isn’t reassuring,” Devin Leonard says in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek report, noting that the USPS is the country’s second-largest civilian employer after Walmart (with more post offices than the retail outlets of Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald’s combined). Last year its revenues were $67 billion, with even greater expenses, he says.

According to the report, first-class mail, which the USPS gets the majority of its money from, has been steadily declining, and in 2005 fell below junk mail for the first time. Total mail volume has decreased 20% just from 2006 to 2010. The USPS hasn’t been able to cover its annual budget in three years.

Well, there’s still packages right? Sure, but there’s also stiff competition from companies like FedEx, UPS, and DHL, along with an increase in digital goods replacing physical goods. Think movies, music, and books. Amazon, the largest retailer on the web, announced last week that Kindle books are outselling print books. Never mind that there are a bunch of free ones too.

Plus, everybody’s going paperless these days. The Director of Physical Infrastructure at the U.S. Government Accountability Office is quoted as saying, “What happens when Bank of America or Citigroup says you are going to have to pay to get your statement on paper? That’s going to change a lot of behavior. It’s going to affect the postal service. That’s how they make most of their money.”

The Bloomberg BusinessWeek report includes some interesting ideas on how the Postal Service could get back on track, at least to some extent, but the outlook is looking pretty bleak. You have to wonder what this will mean for the future of digital communication like email.

Are email taxes on the horizon? Tell us what you think.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.