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Death of snail mail

In the early days of internet usage the usage of snail mail held up quite well. Some reasoned that there might be complementarities between email and snail mail – improved electronic communications might lead to increased need for exchanging hard letter documents. There also seemed to be a considerable rise in bulk commercial mail.

Whatever complementarities might have existed now seem to have vanished however – in the US the snail mail service is in serious retreat. Joshua Gans makes related  observations on the Australian service – where a price increase is being sought to fund the postal service’s fixed costs. The price increase will, as Joshua points out, drive a further nail into the letter business coffin. There are some difficult regulatory issues here.

Most of the snail mail I receive these days is commercial advertising and book, journal and magazine packages. Even bulk Xmas messages are being increasingly sent in lieu of Xmas cards.

4 comments to Death of snail mail

  • John Mashey

    Split snail mail into three categories:

    1) Delivery of information on paper that could as easily be done by email/Web access, etc, like notices, bills, etc.

    2) Delivery of information as physical objects, like books, DVDs (buy or rent, as per Netflix), magazines.

    3) Delivery of physical objects that are not really information, like clothes.

    In technology planning, one often looks not only at the {cost, performance} trends for related technologies, but at the *ratios* of such trends, and plausible predictions.

    1) The cost-effectiveness ratio between electronic and snail mail for 1) has already flipped for many people, given that once one has Internet service, the marginal cost of sending an email is ~0 (i.e., ~electricity cost of running computer,router a little longer), whereas doing it via snail mail costs more, and uses more time, and companies increasingly try to encourage its abandonment.

    Once upon a time, the most cost-effective data transmission mechanism was mailing a magnetic tape, and it’s still more-or-less true for DVD rentals, although not everywhere.

    2) Will increasingly shift, especially as bandwidths rise, and end-user access devices become more capable. Major companies in the business of 2), like {Amazon, Netflix, Barnes & Nobel} are busy working on the shift to avoid physical delivery {Kindle, online, Plastic Logic}.

    3) That leaves only 3) in the long-term, which of course doesn’t leave viable postal services of anything like current scale.

    There is, of course, *inherent* disparity of access between urban areas and rural ones. Many countries have long accepted the extra cost/person of serving rural areas well, in snail mail, telephone service, and (occasionally) Internet access.

    Xmas cards: (prediction): something funny will happen with bulk Xmas cards. A Xmas card *used* to mean “you’re somebody special enough that I spend the time to purchase a card, address it, sign it, and put a stamp on the envelope.” Do email cards necessarily mean that?

  • Uncle Milton

    What will kill snail once and for all will be when we receive our utility bills and bank statements as email attachments.

  • derrida derider

    The one growing area is parcel delivery – online shopping has ensured that. But AP does not have a monopoly here, and really has shown amazingly little ability to compete in this segment using the natural advantages it does have (notably a Post Office network for pickup).

  • dd – i use postal packages a lot for net orders – I notice a lot of the couriers now leave it at the nearest post office if I’m not home – if its a valuable package.

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