The United States Postal Service said Wednesday that it will end Saturday mail delivery this August, eventually saving $2 billion a year but handing some weekly magazines a new hurdle in their struggle to reach readers quickly.
Some weeklies arrive at subscribers' homes during the week already and won't be affected. But others, such as The Week, deliberately try to show up in time for the weekend, when there's more time for reading -- and for shopping trips that might be influenced by ads in the issue.
The Postal Service's move has been expected, however, so some publishers have already been exploring alternate delivery methods. Bloomberg Businessweek, for example, has been using newspaper carriers in major markets including San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and New York. But delivery by newspaper carriers is easier in cities than in suburban areas, where readers don't necessarily want their weekly issues thrown on the lawn.
Bloomberg Businessweek added 30,000 subscribers to its alternate-delivery program in 2012, for a total of 230,000 on U.S. circulation of more than 907,000 copies. That was still fewer new alternate-delivery subscribers than hoped for, according to Bernie Schraml, department head of manufacturing and distribution. "We didn't add what we wanted because the next tier of markets gets a little more expensive," he said.
But the magazine is still committed to adding new markets, and is studying areas including upstate New York. "We're actively looking at that right now -- a little quicker than we thought," he said. "We thought we had Saturday delivery for at least another year."
Time magazine currently reaches mailboxes on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, depending on where subscribers live. "Time has been anticipating this possibility for awhile and we are preparing plans to continue timely delivery of the magazine to our subscribers," a spokeswoman for the magazine said in an email. Subscribers can still read each issue's contents online and in its tablet edition as early as Thursday, she said.
There are significant questions remaining. The Postal Service said it will accept mail on Saturdays, for example, but did not specify whether it would process it then. It is unclear, too, whether eliminating Saturday delivery will mean a back-up on Mondays, something that has been seen when mail service resumes after holidays.
The Association of Magazine Media, the consumer magazine trade group also known as MPA, said in a statement later Wednesday that the announcement today was surprising. "While we have actively participated in conversations around postal reform, and in particular, five-day delivery, we did not expect the USPS would act unilaterally, without Congressional approval, and we await Washington's reaction and more details," the group said.
"In 2011, we testified that five-day delivery would require substantial operational changes from some weekly magazines that often want delivery on Friday and Saturday so readers can enjoy their content over the weekend," the association added. "Despite the difficulties the schedule change would entail, MPA told Congress we were willing to make changes if the shift to five-day delivery and resultant cost savings for the Postal Service were part of a comprehensive package of long-term reforms that would ensure a viable postal system for the foreseeable future. The move to five-day delivery would require substantial preparation on the part of affected magazines. We note that the Postal Service appears to have taken this consideration to heart, proposing the changes go into effect six months from now."