What the USPS decision means for media
February 7, 2013
Print media has suffered many indignities over the past few years, from plunging advertising to declining circulation to increased competition from online news sources.
Now it’s fighting another one.
The U.S. Postal Service said Wednesday that it will end first-class mail delivery on Saturdays as of August, pending congressional approval, in a move that will impact thousands of newspapers, magazines and direct-mail advertisers. It will result in a savings of $2 billion per year for the mail service.
One immediate consequence of the change could be pushing magazine publishers even further along toward digital delivery, an avenue that has seen significant growth over the past few years.
“The bigger issue here, I think, is the continuing trend moving media consumption away from content in hard-copy form (whether it is mail, magazines, etc.) and into digital form,” says Carol Pais Hammond, director of print buying at Fallon.
With electronic delivery, whether as a digital download or as a tablet edition, magazines can entirely circumvent the postal service issues, and at a huge cost savings, while also continuing on their current distribution schedule.
Interrupting that schedule could be an issue for subscribers.
“Consumers are typically rather attached to the magazines they subscribe to, so if they have to wait an additional two days until Monday, there could be some backlash,” Pais says.
USPS has been losing money for years, nearly $16 billion in 2012 alone, and it’s fair to assume that this won’t be the last cut the post office makes.
Many solutions to the budgetary shortfalls have been proposed, including raising rates yet again or eliminating rural routes, and nearly all of them would hurt print publications, many of which rely on Saturday delivery.
The National Newspaper Association says that 30 percent of its members’ papers are distributed by mail on Saturdays.
A number of prominent magazines, including the remaining newsweeklies like Time, The Economist and The Week, deliver on Saturday as well.
The Association of Magazine Media (MPA) released a statement saying that those publications would need “substantial preparation” to ready for the loss of Saturday delivery.
“In 2011, we testified that five-day delivery would require substantial operational changes from some weekly magazines that often want delivery on Friday and Saturday so readers can enjoy their content over the weekend,” said Mary Berner, president and chief executive officer of the MPA, in a statement.
Though some magazines have experimented with alternate delivery methods, such as by newspaper carrier, they have not proven as effective as mailing.
At the least, magazines that had relied on Saturday delivery will face a serious question: Do they want to move up their production schedule in order to go out on Friday, before the weekend, or move it back to print on Mondays, heading into a new week?
Advertisers have traditionally favored pre-weekend delivery. That allows them to promote events and sales happening over the weekend, when people are more likely to be out and about and spending money.
The magazines have a few months before they have to make any decisions.
“Time has been anticipating this possibility for awhile and we are preparing plans to continue timely delivery of the magazine to our subscribers,” said a statement from the magazine, which went on to tout its digital delivery methods.
“With Time’s All Access program, subscribers can already get magazine content (and more) on tablet and on Time.com as early as each Thursday.”
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