It’s hardly news that hard-copy mail volume is shrinking – it has been for fifteen years as the uptake of electronic messaging has accelerated. However, the diversion to electronic media that may work in some applications – personal emails and texts in place of written letters and cards – doesn’t mean all messages translate well. Many individuals still prefer paper bills and statements (though they make payments electronically) and marketers understand that hard copy messages have a better success rate that an electronic message that ends up in the spam folder.
For its part, the Postal Service, and its predecessor, the Post Office Department, have been in the business of moving hard copy mail for 230 years and have experienced the changes in how Americans live and communicate. Traditionally, the post has been viewed as a government service, not a business operation that’s supposed to make money.
More recently, however, the USPS has been expected to continue being a public service but to operate in a business-like manner, supporting itself through the sale of postage. Aside from the inherent conflict of being both service- and business-oriented, the basic equation of self-support has failed: USPS operating costs, and the number of addresses it must reach, are growing while mail volume and revenue are not.
Despite these challenges, previous USPS leaders sought to retain all they could of traditional mail volume while seeking to trim the costs of an expanding delivery network and increasingly inefficient processing infrastructure.
As he has often mentioned, this was the “mess” that Louis DeJoy found when he became postmaster general in 2020. Despite the complexity of the conjoined postal and commercial mailing environments, DeJoy declared that it was obvious what had to be done to set things straight and that he was the man to do it. Without any visible education about the agency or its customers – beyond the library of previous studies, reports, and consultant analyses, and the opinions of his selected advisors – DeJoy presented a plan to save the Postal Service.
That Plan, when issued, devoted considerable space to proposals for expanding package delivery as a major source of future business and revenue, while scarcely saying much about traditional hard-copy mail. Persons who questioned his apparent disinterest in “mail” versus “packages,” like everyone else who didn’t fully and dogmatically embrace his Plan, were dismissed as “noise” and adversaries of change.
Since his ascendancy, DeJoy has continued his focus on packages, while offering only occasional lip service to hard copy mail – which still produces the majority of USPS revenue and supports the infrastructure needed to deliver packages.
Nonetheless, few observers would have anticipated the blunt comments he made during an April interview with Government Executive:
“‘I cannot compete with digital, I just can’t compete with it,’ DeJoy said. ‘So I’m not going to try.’ … Maintaining low prices to keep mail in the system for an extra year? ‘A distraction.‘ You want faster correspondence? ‘Email, if you need it there in a minute.’”
In other words, DeJoy has conceded the field to electronic messaging. Though he claims to want to “preserve ‘affordable’ mail,” his actions – biannual price increases – would suggest otherwise. And, as for “mailers and other stakeholders” who’ve argued that slower delivery and higher rates will exacerbate volume losses, DeJoy brusquely dismisses them: “those critics are in denial.”
If anyone in the commercial mailing community had any doubts about DeJoy’s perspective on what they produce, his comments should tell them all they need to know about his attitude toward their businesses and hard copy mail: they should go away and wither quietly, he has a package business to build.
Going after more package business is one thing, but effectively abandoning hard copy mail – and declaring that in a published interview – is something else. Readers – and the Governors of the USPS – should find this attitude inappropriate for the person in charge of the Postal Service