Newspapers, magazines will have ‘not-great’ choices as USPS plans to end Saturday delivery

CBS News | The Washington Post
The U.S. Postal Service intends to cut first-class delivery on Saturdays starting in August, CBS reported Wednesday. “That means most mailers, letters and catalogs would not arrive on Saturdays,” CBS’ report reads.

The plan to shrink delivery from six days a week to five would only affect first-class mail, while packages, mail-order medicines, priority and express mail would still get delivered on Saturdays.

The post office lost nearly $16 billion in fiscal 2012.

Saturday delivery is a “reader experience issue,” The Week’s president, Steven Kotok, told Poynter by phone. The Week closes its issues late on Wednesday night and delivers them to postal centers Thursday morning, with the expectation that 90 percent of its subscribers will have their copies by Saturday at the latest. If that overflow day moves to Monday, “it’s essentially two not-great options that we have to weigh,” Kotok said.

“Close earlier, which means you’re gonna miss a little bit, or give up on the weekend thing and get it to them on Monday.” The magazine, he said, is “called The Week because it kind of gives you a more thoughtful view on what’s going on.” Moving to Monday would change how readers use the magazine.

Paul Boyle manages government relations for the Newspaper Association of America, some of whose members rely on the post office to deliver their papers. Reached by phone, he said “there’s a long way to go” before the Postal Service ends Saturday delivery. “I personally feel this is a way to highlight the real financial challenges facing the Postal Service and calling attention to the need to save revenues and put pressure on Congress to enact a postal reform bill,” he said.

NAA, Boyle said, has been working with the post office on possible reforms. Still, he said, newspapers need to prepare for the end of Saturday delivery: “It’s almost as if it’s inevitable,” he said. “Newspapers and other mailers need to understand that that is probably going to occur at some point and time.”

The National Newspaper Association, which represents community papers, has fought proposed cuts to Saturday delivery before, as many of its members time their editions to arrive on that day.

“We think it’s a bad deal, but we understand the problem,” National Newspaper Association Postal Chair Max Heath said by phone. The Postal Service, he noted, is unique among federal agencies in that it has to pre-fund retirement obligations.

Polls that show public support for ending six-day delivery, Heath said, don’t represent the Postal Service’s biggest clients, the mailers. “All they’re going to do is drive more people out of the Postal Service,” Heath said. “Do they face a Hobson’s choice? Perhaps.”

The NNA has also said eliminating six-day delivery could slow payments to and from small publishers. About 30 percent of NNA’s member papers mail a Saturday paper, Heath said.

“For us the Saturday delivery is obviously a pretty big deal,” said Chris Huckle, the publisher of the Cadillac (Mich.) News. “It’s our biggest newspaper of the week.”

If Saturday delivery goes away, he’ll have to look into a private delivery system for that day — cheaper, maybe, but also a headache, he says. “If we were not to deliver through the Postal Service, about 75 percent of what we pay the Postal Service will go to somebody else,” he said.

Time magazine subscribers generally get their issues on Fridays and Saturdays. The magazine “has been anticipating this possibility for awhile and we are preparing plans to continue timely delivery of the magazine to our subscribers,” a Time spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Poynter. Subscribers, the statement said, “can already get magazine content (and more) on tablet and on as early as each Thursday.”

About a quarter of Businessweek’s subscribers receive their subscriptions via alternative delivery systems, a program the magazine began rolling out in 2010, Bernie Schraml, Businessweek’s head of manufacturing and distribution told Poynter in an email. “We now have alternate delivery in about 20 markets and are in the process of expanding the program to second and third tier markets,” Schraml wrote. “In light of this announcement, we’ll revisit our plans to see if it makes sense to accelerate expansion.”

Schraml estimates “only a quarter” of subscribers “will actually see their delivery move from Saturday until Monday,” he writes. “However, we believe this change should be accompanied by an end of the USPS’s mailbox monopoly so that private delivery services could also place magazines in subscriber’s mailboxes. In a recent survey, two-thirds of our subscriber respondents were in favor of opening up their mailboxes to suppliers delivering our magazine.”

Valassis Communications struck a deal with the post office last year that made it a more viable competitor to newspapers in getting inserts to customers. The company delivers “less than 1%” of its packages on Saturdays, Valassis GM Steve Mitzel told Poynter in an email. “The vast majority of our core mail packages is delivered midweek,” he wrote. “If Saturday delivery is eliminated, we are in a good position to quickly readjust our distribution plan if needed.”

The post office will argue it doesn’t need congressional approval to end Saturday delivery, Ed O’Keefe writes in The Washington Post.

The Postal Service currently is not operating under appropriations legislation, meaning the organization will have a window to end Saturday mail delivery when the government’s most last temporary spending measure expires on March 27. USPS is asking Congress not to reimpose the restriction against five-day delivery when that time comes.

Saturday cancellation has been considered for decades; NBC News’ Mike O’Brien unearthed this 1957 news report on the possibility:

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  • D.Eadward Tree

    The Office of Inspector General told the Postal Service more than three years ago that it could abolish Saturday delivery without Congressional approval. It’s still true, as Donahoe apparently understands but did not explain well. Here’s an explanation of what he apparently had in mind:

  • Stan Konwiser

    The need for the Post Office to eliminate Saturday delivery is a decision overdue. The real question lies in what happens when the Post Office rationalizes its business operations to fit the reducing revenue. The likelihood is that delivery will be reduced to 2-3 days per week depending on the part of the country served. This will open the door for newspapers to provide those delivery services for magazines and direct mail as they will already be delivering to all of the neighborhoods. It is ironic when you consider the government granted monopoly the USPS has is turning into an albatross around its neck. The collapse of the Post Office will provide opportunity for the newspaper publishers operating in the free market.

  • West Seattle Blog

    All the more reason to phase out paper and start working on universal online access. Seriously. Save trees, save oil. – Tracy (and I’m over 50, by the way; it’s not a generation issue, just an access issue)

  • Paul Wiggins

    ”Reader experience issue”. A classic example of how a certain word is used to avoid plain speaking.