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September 29, 2013
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Publisher’s Notebook: What’s it worth to deliver a personal letter from 3,000 miles away?

Someone needs to stick up for the U.S. Postal Service, so it may as well be me.

If you haven’t heard, the price of a stamp is likely going up again in January, when a first class stamp may rise from 46 to 49 cents.

In a letter to “valued customer,” (that’s us), the chairman of the U.S. Postal Service said the price increase is needed because, well, because the agency is bleeding money faster than Bonnie and Clyde in a bank shoot-out.

Even though the Postal Service has, according to the letter, reduced its work force by 203,000 employees and operating costs by more than $16 billion since 2006, it is on pace to lose $27 BILLION over the last two years.

And, by the way, it would take several lifetimes to count to 27 billion if you started counting nonstop starting now.

That’s more zeros than you will find inside a seedy saloon on a Monday morning.

With numbers like that I’m not sure a 4.3 percent increase in the price of a stamp will help.

And that’s the problem. A stamp should probably cost a lot more than 49 cents by now.

Given the price of fuel, labor and materials, how can you send a get-well card to Aunt Sally 3,000 miles away in New York City for just 49 cents? And have it arrive in just two or three days? To her mailbox, or front-door mail slot? In the snow?

Imagine if we went to a bank looking for a business loan on that model.

Me: “Hello. I’m looking for a business loan.”

Bank: “What’s the business?”

Me: “Well. I’d like to deliver letters and cards all over the world.”

Bank: “Well there certainly is a need for that, with all the birthdays and sick people and bills that need delivering.”

Me: “That’s what we thought. So we’ll need to borrow around $28 billion to get the business off the ground. We need to hire 500,000 people, buy a bunch of trucks and planes and some buildings in almost every town in America and beyond.”

Bank: “I can see that. So where is the revenue going to come from?”

Me: “Thought you’d never ask. The plan is to charge money for stamps. The heavier the letter the more stamps you’ll need. We figure we’ll sell a ton of stamps.”

Bank: “Great idea. How much do you plan to charge for a stamp that will get a letter from Roseburg to New York City in two days?”

Me: “We’re thinking 49 cents?”

The loan officer would probably laugh us out of the bank.

Last time I checked a bottle of water cost twice the price of a stamp and a stale candy bar in a vending machine was a buck. Don’t you think it should cost at least that much to send Aunt Sally a funny get-well card 3,000 miles away in just two days?

Especially when it requires a plane, a truck and a mailman in shorts to deliver the card in the snow?

The Postal Service doesn’t have a pricing issue. Few would disagree that 49 cents is an insanely cheap price to pay to make Aunt Sally’s day a little brighter. There is nothing better than going through your junk mail and finding a Hallmark card that actually has a handwritten note inside.

Dear Aunt Sally. Roses are red/so is your nose/get well soon.

I know … what’s wrong with email? Shut up Mr. Romance. If you are sending your love notes via email there is a reason you can’t get a date.

“LOVE U THIS MUCH! LOL. LMAO. XOXO.”

The same goes for clicking a Happy Birthday button on Facebook. Sorry, it’s not that genuine.

When I was running a paper in Saipan years ago — before the days of Internet and email, back when you actually had to use a pen and paper — my now-wife and I would exchange letters and cards across the ocean. I still have them in a box in my closet and they still have perfume on them.

I remember how great it was to get one of those letters and how I often marveled that they would arrive from halfway around the world in just a few days. I don’t recall what a stamp cost then, but it sure didn’t cover the actual costs.

Imagine if the price of a stamp had just kept pace with, say, the price of a cup of coffee. It wasn’t that long ago you could get a good cup of java for a quarter. That was before Starbucks set a new pricing standard.

“How much should we charge for flavored coffee?” they must have asked.

“I’m thinking $3,” the chief of market research must have replied.

“Wow,” someone in the corner of the room might have said, startled by the price. “That seems really expensive.”

“They aren’t paying for the coffee, son,” the marketing expert responded. “They are paying for the Starbucks experience.”

In other words, it’s all about creating value in the mind of the consumer.

Even if a stamp cost a dollar today, the Postal Service would likely still lose money. As much as it pains me to say (that’s a joke), government isn’t the best when it comes to efficiency. That’s why some are reluctant to hand the health care business to Uncle Sam, who finds himself once again on the brink of bankruptcy.

But if you don’t think a stamp is worth at least one minute at the local car wash (where you put four quarters in a slot for two minutes of soap), or a Snickers bar from a company vending machine, you must not care much for poor Aunt Sally and her runny nose.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated Sep 29, 2013 12:04AM Published Oct 10, 2013 07:20PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.