Postal services dwindle worldwide against growing Internet usage
BY NICK PERRY
Sunday, March 03, 2013
3/03/13 at 4:17 AM
OTAKI, New Zealand (AP) - Sandra Vidulich is so excited about the leather boots she ordered through Amazon that she rips open the box in front of the postman and tries them on.
"I looove them," she declares, as the driveway at her tree-lined home in rural New Zealand briefly becomes a catwalk. "They're cool."
For now, a boom in Internet shopping is helping keep alive moribund postal services across the developed world. But the core of their business - letters - is declining precipitously, and data from many countries indicate that parcels alone won't be enough to save them. The once-proud postal services that helped build modern society are scaling back operations, risking further declines.
The United Kingdom is preparing to sell the Royal Mail, which traces its roots back nearly 500 years to the reign of King Henry VIII.
The U.S. Postal Service sparked uproar this month when it announced plans to stop delivering letters on Saturdays. New Zealand is considering three days of deliveries per week instead of six.
It's only in the past few years that postal services have truly felt the pinch of the Internet. Revenues at the USPS, which delivers about 40 percent of the world's mail, peaked in 2007 at $75 billion. But the decline since then has been rapid. USPS revenue in 2012 fell to $65 billion, with losses of $15.9 billion. It handled 160 billion pieces of mail that year, down from 212 billion in 2007. And it had slashed its workforce by 156,000, or 23 percent.
Elsewhere, the news is just as grim. La Poste in France estimates that by 2015, it will be delivering 30 percent fewer letters than it did in 2008. Japan last year delivered 13 percent fewer letters than it did four years earlier.
The Universal Postal Union, which reports to the United Nations, estimates that letter volumes worldwide dropped by nearly 4 percent in 2011 and at an even faster clip in developed nations. Developed countries closed 5 percent of their post offices in 2011 alone.
And while Internet shopping continues to grow, postal services that once profited from their monopoly on letters find themselves competing for parcels against private companies like FedEx.
U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donaho said axing Saturday mail deliveries, while keeping six-day-a-week package deliveries, will save the service about $2 billion a year.
Donahoe said he thinks ending Saturday letter deliveries will keep the USPS a solid proposition for years to come.
"People still go to their mailbox every day and they wait for their mail to come," he said. "It's part of American life."
And it has been since the beginning. The postal service's role was defined in the Constitution, and Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general. The short-lived Pony Express achieved an enduring place in American folklore. Even the modern system of highways and airline travel grew from pioneering routes developed by the postal service.
While letter volumes are falling in developed nations, the reverse is true in some developing countries. In China, mail deliveries are up 56 percent since 2007, driven by a more than fourfold increase in premium express mail, according to figures from China Post.
Yet people in China are accustomed to having their mail show up late or disappear altogether. As Internet use increases in the developing world, mail may never be as essential as it has been elsewhere.
In the U.S., the government is accepting public comments until mid-March. A quarter of those received so far were mailed in, a rate considered unusually high.
The other 75 percent? Email.
Original Print Headline: Future of world's mail uncertain
Postman John Lahmert delivers mail in rural Otaki, New Zealand. New Zealand is considering cutting letter deliveries from six days a week to three as global demand for postal services dwindles. NICK PERRY / Associated Press