The U.S. Postal Service loses billions of dollars every quarter and hit its $15 billion borrowing limit from Congress for the first time this year. Postmaster General John Potter has been saying for years that one way for the struggling organization to save a whole lot of money is to deliver mail only five days a week. To some, this is blasphemy. Yet in today's economy, it seems inevitable.
It would require approval from Congress to trim delivery by one day a week, and that legislative body hasn't yet seemed to be interested in saving all that cash for reasons unknown.
Still, weekly b-to-b magazines have been nervously waiting for that day to arrive, and one suspects that after the presidential election, things might change—especially since the top issue in this year's election is the state of the U.S. economy.
“Honestly, USPS service is presently so unreliable and unpredictable in terms of days to the box, I wonder if it will have much noticeable impact,” said Jo Arnone, director of production at Editorial Projects in Education. “It will give another leg-up to alternate delivery services such as UPS and FedEx, and perhaps spawn new service providers capable of filling the gap for those to whom Saturday delivery is essential,” she said.
Jack Widener, American Business Media's postal counsel, said the association has researched options for alternate delivery to USPS extensively and continues to monitor those services as an alternative for members that require Saturday delivery.
One title that has been extremely proactive in seeking alternate forms of delivery is Bloomberg Businessweek.
Since December 2010, the title has been expanding its use of hand delivery of magazines using nonpostal delivery partners, according to Bernie Schraml, director of manufacturing and distribution for Bloomberg Businessweek. Its first test was in Philadelphia, and the project has been expanded to 23 markets. Next year, Bloomberg Businessweek will add another printing plant to the three that already produce the title. That “will reduce transportation time to subscribers in the southeast area of the country,” Schraml said.
All of this effort is because the company is concerned that about 35% of its mailed subscriber copies wouldn't make it to their destination until Monday if Saturday delivery is dropped. “Expanding the use of hand delivery to provide guaranteed Friday or Saturday delivery to subscribers is how our magazine will mitigate the effect of a reduction in postal service,” Schraml said.
Bloomberg Businessweek continues to look for delivery partners in the markets where it doesn't have one yet and will continue to attempt to improve its process in order to speed delivery.
One issue in the five-day delivery scenario that will need to be worked out is how two mail programs that were created to help save publishers money—co-palletization and co-mailing—will fit into the equation, said Jim Pizzo, senior director of distribution, paper and production finance at UBM.
“It's easy to suggest that publishers revise their production cycle schedules with their printers who mail-prepare their publications,” he said. “But with so much emphasis on co-mail or co-pal today to optimize USPS savings, it may not be so easy with other publishers' periodicals at the same facility.”
Still, Widener said that when Congress finally gets around to accepting five-day delivery it will likely take six months to a year before the sixth day is actually eliminated in order to give everyone ample time to prepare.