How the Post Office Could Have Saved Itself

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The US Postal Service had the chance, early on, to become a provider of email.

This was during the Internet’s early days. Few people at that time foresaw the importance email would attain.

Neither, it seems, did the Postal Service.

In fact, the Postal Service saw email as a threat, not as an opportunity.

If USPS had seized its chance, it could easily have become a major player in email and email-related services.

Maybe the dominant player.

I’m pretty sure Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, EarthLink, and other corporations that jumped on email still would have done so. Free accounts still would be easy to come by.

But the Postal Service, in addition to basic free service, could easily have monetized specialized for-profit features for which it had unique advantages. Not to mention ad sales and all the other usual suspects.

Today the Postal Service is struggling financially. Maybe going bankrupt. Its primary function is today universally derided as “snail mail”.

How might this be different for our mail system  and for all of us — if a more visionary approach had prevailed? If key leaders had embraced change instead of resisting it?

More important, what could happen in 20 years if each one of us embraces some seminal change we face today? And where will it leave us if we don’t?


Comments

How the Post Office Could Have Saved Itself — 3 Comments

  1. Hah! I have thought of exactly this. But all is not lost because they can still provide that service with added on benefits. After all, Google cannot and will not come to your house. But USPS can deliver. So for instance you have to print something and you can’t–no printer or no ink–so you send your documents to USPS, they print it and deliver it. Fedex already does this, at a pretty high price, but USPS can easily undercut them.

    • Dev, I think that’s a terrific idea. In truth, I had not considered all the many and varied things the Post Office still could do today, despite having been behind the curve.

      There really only needs to be one large, high-capacity print-on-demand copy machine in any given postal region. It could be located at the USPS central processing facility, serving various smaller branch offices. You’d email it a PDF file or Word document or whatnot. That document could be automatically received, automatically printed, automatically packaged and addressed, and automatically routed for sending back to the document’s creator. The copier could be one capable of color printing, double-sided (duplex) printing, trimming, stapling, and the like.

      We know this is possible because such machines exist, and they’re already used exactly this way by services like BestValueCopy.com and many others. But USPS would enjoy economies of scale other companies can’t imagine. They already show up at our houses every day. Plus, if we’re in a hurry — we all know where our nearest branch postal facility is, and we’re mostly used to going there when we need to.

      This is far from the only thing the Post Office could be doing to pull itself out of its hole. Bernie Sanders has been pushing for the agency to offer banking services to low-income citizens. They could do things like check cashing: You could submit the check by email, then pick it up (for a small fee) after it has cleared. As Bernie argues, the service already did offer low-cost banking transactions in the past. I think it was pressured to get out of that field because it competed with “private enterprise” (meaning the loan sharks who now prey upon the poor). Why isn’t this happening?

      • Yes, I have seen that proposal from Bernie. It doesn’t have to stop at just check cashing either. In India the Post Office offers financial services. You can buy long term savings certificates from the PO, or start a savings account. Just imagine we could have had President Sanders… instead we have a clown.

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