The lost weekend

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Cutting Saturday mail service could have big impact on production, distribution It appears the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service is on a direct path toward eliminating a day of mail delivery each week, despite the opposition of labor unions and possibly some members of Congress. “The mailers are very reluctantly accepting it—not blessing it and not cheering it on. We don't have any other way to save a few billion dollars,” said David Straus, a partner at Thompson Coburn and postal counsel for American Business Media. Consumers seem ready to embrace the idea. A Gallup poll released this past summer found 66% of Americans favor five-day delivery “as a way to help the Postal Service solve its financial problems.” The problems for publishers, of course, is that this would directly affect the production and distribution cycle of weekly publications, particularly as the proposed day for all delivery and processing to shut down is Saturday. That switch, which still has a number of steps to go through before becoming a reality, could put a lot of pressure on printers and distribution departments to get titles to subscribers at the end of the week rather than early the following week. Jo Arnone, director of production at Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week and five other titles, said the current standard for periodical delivery of one to seven days hasn't changed since the 1980s. “Those of us who mail periodicals are well aware that, even with the use of additional drops, the post office does not presently meet this timetable. My organization typically sees delivery times spanning a range double this,” she said. Losing a delivery day will likely add more time to that equation, she added. “As publishers, we are the victims each time the post office institutes its latest round of changes, requiring everything from cover redesigns to additional fees for reduced service,” Arnone said. “Changes are implemented with the promise they will allow the service to deliver fewer pieces in a more mechanized way, leading to greater efficiency and subsequent cost savings. Unfortunately, that has yet to happen.” Jim Pizzo, senior director of distribution, events billing and production finance at United Business Media, suggests publishers talk to their printers about whether closing their titles earlier would mean they'd enter the mailstream on Friday. “Periodicals may have it tougher, but newsletter publishers may be able to swing this earlier close into their schedules,” he said. Michael McShane, national distribution director at Reed Business Information, offered a number of suggestions for publishers that would be affected by the elimination of Saturday postal service. He said they could change production and mailing commitments if possible, replace Saturday mail subscriptions with electronic editions, have titles hand-delivered by other organizations and work with fulfillment vendors to find more efficient methods of delivery. “On one of my dailies, we're able to combine USPS-delivery-sorted mail in an efficient route delivery sequence with my hand courier deliveries in the same city—not an easy feat to accomplish, but it was done and works great,” McShane said. Reed also uses some city newspapers to deliver its titles along with the Sunday editions. “They are desperate for revenue,” he said. “Pricing and service are very good.” Pizzo said it's key for midsize and smaller publishers to look into this issue as soon as possible in order to be ready. “They need to find out from their mail preparers when their publications hit the USPS facilities and what impact will this have on their delivery,” he said. Arnone said the new postal delivery schedule would likely force changes to the production and drop schedules. “Perhaps it will further anger our subscribers, who are sick of the late delivery of our weekly periodical, two plus weeks after cover date,” she said. The likely result, she said, is that it will hasten the demise of the print edition and speed the rise of the digital version. M
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