APRIL 2009 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD

What’s in the Mail?

A month ago I wrote about e-mail and its move to social networks and away from the open Internet. Something similar is happening to mail. Mail used to be what tied the world together. Now you could go for a week without checking your mail, and you would barely notice the difference.

Mail volume is declining faster than ever before. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) reported a 4.5 percent decline in mail pieces between 2007 and 2008, and there is every indication that this year’s decline is faster. These are some of the reasons mail is declining:

I am old enough to remember eagerly checking the mailbox to see if someone had sent me a letter. I can still hope, but realistically, I will get about as many person-to-person notes in the mail in a year as I get in a day via web sites. I have also opted out of getting bills and magazines in the mail as much as possible, cutting those categories down to about 10 pieces a year.

So what is in the mail these days? I still love to get checks in the mail, and for many of my customers, it’s still the convenient way to pay. Mail remains essential for government documents. For example, my voter card comes in the mail. It would be hard to vote if I were not receiving mail. Every few weeks I order merchandise online, and most of it arrives in the mail. And then, of course, there is the daily pile of advertisements, a few of which might interest me. I can hardly do away with mail, but it’s not as big as it used to be. It is no longer important for me to check it every day.

The volume of mail is likely to decline further, just because advertisers are getting smarter. Imagine if advertisers could guess which ads of theirs you were likely to read, so they could stop mailing you the rest. Supermarkets would send me postcards instead of circulars. My favorite box company would send me one catalog a year instead of 10. Advertisers are slowly getting better at this, so you can expect some of the mail you already ignore to become less frequent.


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