Newsweek has an interesting piece on how it’s junk mail that is keeping the United States Post Office afloat:

Earlier this year Plimpton became tired of the credit-card offers, catalogs and advertising fliers that clogged her mailbox. So in February she paid $20 to GreenDimes, a firm that helps consumers reduce their inflow of “junk mail” by contacting businesses on their behalf. “[Junk mailers] are cutting down trees willy-nilly, and that has got to stop,” says Plimpton.

To the post office, consumers like her are a serious threat. “Efforts to convince people not to receive mail are really going to hurt,” says Steve Kearney, a Postal Service senior vice president.

The Postal Service lost $1.1 billion in its latest quarter. That number would be even larger if it weren’t for direct mailings, which now constitute 52 percent of mail volume, up from 38 percent in 1990. Revenue from direct mail “is the financial underpinning of the Postal Service—it could not survive without it,” says MichaelCoughlin, former deputy postmaster.

I wondered if after the whole “Do Not Call” thing they’d start a “Do Not Mail”.

I haven’t had a problem with junk mail in years. Sure, I get it, but only a little bit here and a little bit there. There’s only been one time in my life when it got pretty bad. It was back when my ex-roommate Karl and I moved into an apartment complex in a relatively nice part of Colosse near The Mall of the Gulf. The apartment complex had a lot of young and childless professionals and I think that we must have fit some sort of target demographic because it was amazing the sheer volume of stuff that we got. It became a real hassle because if I forgot to check my slot for a day or two, the box would get full and I wouldn’t get the mail items I need cause the box was stuffed with stuff that I didn’t.

On the whole, though, I just don’t consider junk mail nearly as much a hazard or an irritant as I do telephone solicitors, spammers, or back in Estacado door-to-door people. Telephone solicitors and door-to-door folks invade your life when you’re trying to do something else while when it comes to getting your mail you get some choice over that. Sending out mail is also (I think) a little more expensive telephone solicitation and a lot more expensive to the sender than spam. That means that it becomes expensive for them to just blanket everywhere with all their advertisements and so they have to do things like limit themselves to places where their product might be useful or where the demographics of an area are full of people such as young professionals without children.

There is an environmental cost, though, as the article points out. I’m not a particularly big environmentalist, but in this vein junk mail is harmful in a way that spam isn’t (unless the energy costs outweigh the lost paper?). I am a pretty big fan of the mail system, though, and a selfish little part of me says “I don’t care if people in posh neighborhoods can’t get their mail and South America is being deforested, I don’t wanna pay 50c or more for a stamp!”

Category: Market

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3 Responses to The Costs of Junk Mail

  1. Peter says:

    Not all junk mailers are diligent about selecting their recipients. We regularly get junk mail for swimming pool supplies and services, notwithstanding the fact that we don’t actually have a pool.

    If there’s anything good to be said about the current economic troubles, it’s that the volume of those ridiculous “you have been pre-approved” credit card offers is way, way down.

  2. kevin says:

    There’s actually a website or phone number you can contact to remove your name from those pre-approved credit card offers. I agree that it would be nice if there were a do not mail list, similar to the do not call list. Interestingly (or, at least, interestingly to me, boring to everyone else), the national do not call registry came up in a case I had recently. I’m a lawyer who represented bail bondsmen in a challenge to a state statute and local ordinance that included a prohibition on calls between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. The restriction was based, in part, on the restrictions in the national do not call registry. We won on every issue but the 9 to 9 restriction. One of the factors that convinced the trial and appellate courts that the 9 to 9 restriction was okay was the do not call list. We argued that our case was different because most people want to know when their family member is in jail, there was no do not call registry that regulated and we actually had evidence of that in the record. But we lost on that issue. But yes, junk mail is extremely annoying, although not nearly as annoying as telemarketers, who I’m starting to hang up on, and door-to-door salesmen, who seem to be making a comeback.

  3. Peter says:

    I stopped at my local post office this morning to buy a couple of stamps. Because I pay most bills online I use maybe one or two stamps per month. The supermarket sells books of stamps, but that’s more than I need. In any event, the last time I was at the post office, maybe a month or two ago, there was a handwritten sign on the stamp vending machine reading “broken for three weeks.” Today? It’s still broken, though now there’s a printed sign informing people of that fact. Going to the window to buy two stamps would be pointless as there was a long line.

    Private industry may have its faults, but this sort of screw-the-customers idiocy generally can be found only at government places like the post office.

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