Community newspapers lost in the mail, an ongoing issue

by John Derr, Publisher
Posted 9/23/21

On September 14th, I sent an email to the U.S. Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy.  Because I couldn’t trust the USPS to deliver a letter to him.

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Community newspapers lost in the mail, an ongoing issue

Posted

On September 14th, I sent an email to the U.S. Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy.  Why did I email Louis DeJoy? Because I couldn’t trust the USPS to deliver a letter to him.

September 14th was a Tuesday, and the September 9th issue of the Chestnut Hill Local still had not been dropped at local post offices for delivery to subscribers despite having been received at the Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) on Lindbergh Boulevard as per usual the previous Tuesday night. (Here’s a thought, perhaps Lindbergh Blvd. should be renamed for ill-fated aviator Amelia Earhart as a warning that mail that is dropped there may never be seen again.) A week went by without any answers regarding the whereabouts of the September 9th Chestnut Hill Local.  Emails and phone calls were unreturned.

Such service has, unbelievably, become unsurprising. There have been ongoing issues with the delivery of the Local in certain areas for several months. A few months ago, some subscribers in Wyndmoor and Flourtown did not receive their Locals for four weeks, then received them all in one day.  Back in December, nearly 10,000 copies of the premiere issue of Wissahickon Magazine sat at that same BMEU for as many as six weeks before they reached their intended homes.

If we were the only community newspaper dealing with this continuing problem, that would be bad enough. But the inability of the post office to provide consistent delivery service is yet another, and perhaps the most severe, existential threat to community newspapers. Larger daily newspapers, such as the Inquirer and Daily News, hire contract workers to deliver their products.  Smaller, weekly papers do not have that option.  Newspapers like the Local must depend on an accurate and efficient postal system.

The USPS has demonstrated accuracy and efficiency in one area: postage is deducted from our account with the swift proficiency of a Swiss timepiece. Unfortunately, some other parts of the operation are more comparable to a Casio.  (Mail carriers, excluded. They can’t deliver what’s not provided to them.)

It is imperative to community newspapers and other businesses and citizens across the country that the USPS gets its act together quickly.  I have picked on Louis DeJoy, but he inherited a mess. However, his effort to clean it up has made things worse, like he discovered an ink stain on his shirt and tried to blot it up with a wet cloth.

At least with packages, there are competitors to the USPS. You can use FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc. But, there are no other options for letters, bills, newspapers, and other periodicals. Some might say, “Well, all of that should be done digitally now anyway.  Send emails, look up news online.”  Things will move that way in their time. Still, they should not be sped along by the inability for the USPS to get mail from Point A to Point B.  And, for the most part, community newspapers are not capable of surviving financially as digital-only publications.

A typical subscriber-based weekly newspaper will derive 80% of its total revenue from advertising and about 20% from circulation.  Of that advertising amount, 95% will be print advertising.  The economics aren’t that much different for daily newspapers. A significant portion of revenue is still tied to the print product. I don’t think a newspaper in Pennsylvania could survive if they had to go entirely digital right now.

After my email to Louis DeJoy, I did receive a call from Nathan King, Consumer Advocate Director for the USPS. He assured me with the sincerity of a funeral director that he would make some calls, get to the bottom of the issue, and get back to me by noon the next day.  As of this writing, I have not heard from Nathan King. I hope he was not foolish enough to test our BMEU by shipping himself to Philadelphia to check it out firsthand.

I did, however, receive a call from John Bard of the USPS Select Business Customer Support Team. I guess, if the Postal Service was a branch of the military, this would be one of their SEALs. Bard said all the right things. He empathized with our situation. He apologized for the problems. He promised to find us some answers.

I hope he calls back . . . and doesn’t just mail his findings to me.

Have you had issues any issues with the USPS?  We would like to hear from you.

John Derr
Publisher

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