• on Mar 30th, 2015 in Strategy & Public Policy | 1 comment

    The conventional wisdom on the future of print, if print has a future at all, is that old-fashioned books, magazines, and newspapers will still be around only as long as the generations that grew up with them are still around. But as older readers fade away, so will print because younger generations are all about digital communications. Or are they?

    Consider some interesting recent developments and facts:

    • The Pew Research Center found the current highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29, and the same age group is still using public libraries in large numbers.
    • A new academic study showed that, despite the availability of free e-texts, today’s university students prefer dead-tree-based books because they don’t constantly distract you with a noisy alert to a new email or text message.
    • Focus groups of Digital Natives, a.k.a. Millennials, convened by our office showed the participants still value physical mail, especially if it includes some kind of interactive feature.

    Put all of this in the context of some recent European studies on the impact of digitization on reading, and maybe print isn’t going away anytime soon: People retain more details when reading a book than reading an e-book. Researchers said the early results suggest the tactile nature of paper and having words affixed to a page seem to help the reader process the text and better remember the story.

    A small Norwegian study of high school students came to a similar conclusion, having found that students who read textbooks in print scored significantly better on reading comprehension tests than those students who read digital texts.

    So maybe younger readers aren’t so different from older readers. It wouldn’t be the first time conventional wisdom was wrong. In fact, some of the same arguments are made about mail and other paper-based communications. Yet a study done by the UK’s Royal Mail showed physical media generated greater activity in certain parts of the brain and a stronger overall response than digital media. The study supported the concept that touch and tangibility matter to recipients.

    What things do you still like to read in print? Which do you prefer to read digitally? Are there other things you still prefer having in hard copy? Do you find you retain information better when reading from hard copy or a digital device? 

  • on Mar 23rd, 2015 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 54 comments

    Reshaping a postal network doesn’t happen overnight. Especially one built to handle mainly letters and flats and not the tremendous anticipated growth in parcels. The Postal Service is attempting to tackle realignment in two phases, playing out over 4 years.

    Phase one was completed in 2013 and resulted in 141 consolidations for an expected cost savings of about $865 million. To achieve full cost savings, however, the Postal Service also had to reduce service standards for First-Class Mail. Phase two, which started in January and will run through late summer, calls for consolidating 82 mail processing facilities and eliminating most overnight delivery of First-Class Mail. It will also change service standards for Periodicals Mail. All other products will stay the same.

    The Postal Service launched its overall consolidation plan in 2012 to adjust the size of the network and workforce to the reduced demand. The plan calls for fewer processing facilities and for machinery to operate longer and more efficiently. Total mail volume has declined 27 percent since its peak in 2006, and single-piece First-Class Mail – primarily correspondence, bill payments, and greeting cards – has been hit even harder. It has declined by more than half in the past decade.

    Speaking at the February Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee meeting, postal officials said they are confident consumers will not notice the service standard changes. Surveys suggest most people don’t know what the service standards are, but they do care when their mail arrives in their mailbox. So the Postal Service is working to ensure consumers receive their mail at the same time each day. They also reminded people that consolidation doesn’t necessarily mean closing. Some facilities could be repurposed for other services.

    Business mailers have generally supported efforts to eliminate excess capacity and reduce costs, with the exception of those whose business model depends on overnight service. But mailers also worry that some costs could be shifted to them. Unions have opposed the consolidation plan, arguing it downgrades service and delays mail at a time when the Postal Service should be stepping up its efforts to compete with digital communications. As for consumers, the Postal Service may be right that they won’t really care – unless they notice a change in delivery performance. It’s also worth noting that service standards are not changing for Priority Mail or Package Services, so the Postal Service should be able to satisfy customers’ growing demand for packages.

    Are you concerned that network consolidation has resulted or could result in mail delays? Or do you think network rationalization is necessary to reduce costs? If you oppose consolidation, how do you recommend the Postal Service better match its capacity to demand?

  • on Mar 16th, 2015 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 1 comment

    This is the second blog in our two-part series on sustainability. Last week’s blog, Green Scene, focused on recycling efforts.

    When do growth and reduction go hand-in-hand? When the world’s posts are trying to grow their business but reduce their carbon footprint.

    The 25 national postal operators that make up the International Post Corporation (IPC) have made great strides toward achieving their carbon dioxide emission reduction goals, but they hit a bump in 2013 and 2014. A coalition of the world’s industrialized posts, the IPC is aiming to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Half of the IPC members have already reached the target. But last year marked the first increase in emissions from the use of heating and transport fuel for the group as a whole since the IPC environmental measurement program began in 2009.

    One reason for the backsliding is actually a good problem. The global growth in e-commerce, which has boosted the posts’ number of parcel deliveries, is making emission reduction targets more challenging. Especially harsh winters in some countries and a big increase in size in one of the operator’s delivery networks have also contributed to the posts’ higher fuel consumption.

    IPC officials are stressing the importance of switching to renewable energy, either self-generated or purchased, wherever possible.

    The U.S. Postal Service is one of the 25 posts taking part in the IPC Environmental Measurement and Monitoring Program. It’s also one of the posts that saw its transportation fuel use increase. In its 2014 Sustainability Report, the Postal Service notes that “an aging [postal vehicle] fleet and the need to service more delivery points are pushing our fuel demand upward.” Still, the Postal Service must continue its efforts to manage its fuel resources as efficiently as possible, for both its own fleet and its contracting vehicles. (Our 2014 audit report offered recommendations on encouraging fuel efficient practices in highway contract routes.) This should get easier in the next couple of years as the Postal Service replaces its long-life vehicle fleet. This summer the Postal Service will select vendors to build new vehicle prototypes and it will award a contract of up to $6.3 billion over several years beginning in 2017.

    With continued parcel growth expected, how can the world’s posts meet the demands of customers while reducing their carbon footprints? What technologies might benefit the Postal Service specifically? 

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