The United States Post Office and Politics
The m-bag is gone.
by Renée Magriel Roberts
I hope you've already heard about this, but if you have not, as of May 15, 2007, the Post Office is enacting rate and service changes that will radically alter the way in which we ship books to our customers. For years, booksellers and their customers have benefited from media mail, the surface domestic rate, and economy and/or m-bag service for international sales. This has enabled many of us to grow our businesses and reach international customers, understanding that shipping is the single largest cost (other than the extortionist fees demanded by bookselling sites ... don't get me started on that). Customers who want books, including those overseas, have been able to buy books from the United States and have them shipped at a reasonable cost.
Now the Post Office, in its wisdom, has decided that the world no longer needs surface mail. As of the 15th, packages between 1 oz. and 13 oz. will cost between $1.13 and $3.17. A typical 2 lb. book will cost a minimum of $4.60 if the flat-rate envelope is used. The Priority Mail flat rate box is going up to $9.15. If you cannot or do not wish to use the flat rate envelope, then the same first class 2-lb. book will cost from $4.60 to $7.50, depending upon the zone.
More importantly, international surface mail no longer exists, either as economy or as the m-bag. All international mail is flying. The flat rate envelope to Canada and Mexico is going up to $9.00, and to all other countries to $11.00. There will also be a flat rate box, $23.00 to Canada and Mexico and to all other countries $37.00. The real pinch will come if the book or books weigh more than 5 lbs., as the m-bag will no longer exist.
How can it possibly serve our national interest to make it difficult and overly expensive for customers in other countries to buy books??
It is pretty obvious to me that those megalisting sites who offer shipping allowances are not going to fall in line with these adjustments, so, it is left to us, if we do not want to subsidize our customer's shipping, to raise our basic prices to make the difference. Also, instead of just using the post office, as we have for many years, we are really going to have to seriously consider the alternatives, primarily FedEx Ground and UPS. As we are, as far as I know, the single largest customer at our local post office, this is going to be a financial blow to that unit, not a ticket to increased revenue.
Now coincidentally (?) about a week ago, we received a letter from UPS saying that they had lowered our shipping rates for reasons that remain unclear, as we are not heavy users. I began to wonder if there was some conspiracy behind all this (other than what I can see as being a bad business decision) - is somebody behind the scenes trying to privatize the US post office by getting it to lose money and eliminate much-needed services? Is there some Bush appointee(s) involved in these decisions? Hey, we know he isn't much of a reader.
The United States Post Office and Politics
The Post Office has more important concerns than advertising.
I checked the Post Office's website, and at least three of the four top execs are lifelong Post Office workers, not refugees from the Bush/Cheney campaign, or ex-Haliburton or former Enron leaders. I do know that there has been a lot of pressure from the thank God formerly Republican-dominated Congress to privatize the Post Office, or eliminate it so that our free enterprise system can take over this essential communications utility. There may be a conspiracy, but I can't put my finger on it exactly.
What I do know is that the Post Office leadership has evolved into the worst of both worlds - it has the attitude of a state-run monopoly (i.e. it doesn't listen well) combined with the poor decision-making of a free-enterprise monopoly (i.e. it serves its bottom line first rather than the people). With a 95% completion rate, last time I checked, the post office regularly loses or misplaces a huge amount of mail. Unlike many countries, it does not offer a modestly-priced tracked service either domestically (I'm not counting Delivery Confirmation, which is a poor cousin) or internationally. It does not think it important enough to provide its local offices with supplies it needs, but allows corporations to order whatever boxes and such they want. And it shamelessly promotes, for money, private commercial interests like Walt Disney, Hershey's Chocolate, and Star Wars, while rarely using its powerful bully pulpit for ideas and issues that really matter.
The Continental Congress did not create the United States Post Office as a private business; they correctly saw it as an absolutely necessary public utility, essential for a democracy. One of the first questions before the delegates at the Continental Congress of 1775 was how to convey and deliver the mail and Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General. Article IX of the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, gave Congress "The sole and exclusive right and power ... establishing and regulating post offices from one State to another ... and exacting such postage on papers passing through the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office ..." The Postmaster General was to report to and be appointed by Congress, not by a bunch of executives from interlocking corporations whose sole motivating factor was profit.
In my opinion, the Postal System is an essential public utility which must remain just that -- public. That means it must be available; that means the cost must be reasonable; that means it should support the dissemination of knowledge and businesses, like ours, that purvey it. This poorly-conceived rate and service change needs to be rolled back and we need a new view and probably new leadership at the United States Post Office, more in line with the thinking of the Founders.
Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.