Can the Post Office Survive the Digital Age?

Chris CrumTechnology

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In an article earlier this year, we asked, "Is email killing the post office?" Well, the post office is not dead yet, but it's not helping from the looks of it. The U.S. Postal Service doesn't have the money it needs to pay its bills, and email and the web are clearly major factors.

Can the post office survive the digital age? Tell us what you think.

A report from the New York Times is all but predicting the U.S. Postal Service's demise. "The agency is so low on cash that it will not be able to make a $5.5 billion payment due this month and may have to shut down entirely this winter unless Congress takes emergency action to stabilize its finances," the report says.

"If Congress doesn't act, we will default," Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe is quoted as saying.

Whew we discussed the subject before, Bloomberg BusinessWeek had put out a lengthy report looking at the decline of the USPS and its contributing factors. While touching on email, it looked more at comparison of USPS performance versus that of FedEx, UPS and DHL, as well as their international counterparts.

Despite talk that social media might one day kill email, email has proven time and time again that it is still a vital part of the Internet. A report from Pew Internet recently found that email (along with search) is the top activity online adults engage in on the web - way more than social media (though that's growing significantly).

Pew Internet survey

Unfortunately for the USPS, that conversation is irrelevant, because social media and email go hand in hand when it comes to less communication by "snail mail" - a phrase that the post office no doubt despises.

One can only imagine how mobile has contributed to even more communication by web over mail. Now the Internet is in your pocket at all times, not to mention the phone - another classic non-mail form of communication. Last week, Nielsen put out a report finding that 40% of mobile users in the U.S. use smartphones.

Of course email isn't the only part of the web that is hurting the post office. Online bill pay is a big contributor as well - also now handily available from your pocket.

It's just easier, cheaper and more efficient to communicate digitally.

Total mail volume decreased by 20% from 2006 to 2010, according to that Bloomberg report. The numbers can only be getting worse for the post office.

There will always be packages, but the digital age certainly continues to leave its mark on those as well. Movies, music and books are all digital now. Earlier this year, Amazon announced that Kindle books were outselling print books. Tablet (namely iPad) sales are on fire. The USPS also has to compete with those other parcel services too.

The Postal Service's payment is due on September 30. From the sound of it, consumers wouldn't likely feel the effects so much until early next year. At least the post office should remain open for the holidays.

Is the USPS in serious trouble or is this just a temporary set-back? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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.