If you were a business owner and a government agency was trying to steal customers away from you, would you be upset? Of course you would -- and you would have every right to be. That is exactly what the U.S. Postal Service is doing to newspapers.
Most of you have probably seen the Postal Service's most recent commercials on TV for its "Every Door Direct Mail" program. In a nutshell, the Postal Service is pushing direct mail marketing to local businesses. Apparently the officials at the Postal Service have forgotten that some of their best customers -- local newspapers -- also offer direct marketing.
According to the Postal Service website, "With Every Door Direct Mail service from the U.S. Postal Service, you can reach the market that matters most to your business: nearby neighborhoods. Postage is as low as 14.5 cents per piece -- and you don't even need to know names or street addresses. You simply identify the neighborhoods you want to target, and your printed piece is delivered with the day's mail to every address."
Obviously the television commercials and website aren't getting the word out about direct mail well enough because postmasters are now going directly to local business owners pushing the service. Just last week the Cuba postmaster came into the Cuba Free Press office selling the USPS direct mail products.
The postmaster said he actually got into trouble because he hasn't been selling direct mail and his superiors were making him go see businesses in person about it. As part of his "sales pitch" he pointed out that customers could mail fliers for 14.5 cents each. While that sounds like a good deal, you should know that this newspaper will distribute your fliers for eight cents or less each.
The postmaster added that the Postal Service was now waiving its permit fees, which can be as much as $300, for direct mailings. When asked if they were also going to waive the permit fees for mailing newspapers the answer, of course, was "no."
It's bad enough that the Postal Service is now actively selling its bulk mail products in local markets, what makes it even worse is that they are selling against some of their best customers. Small community newspapers are the best customers the U.S. Postal Service has in those local markets. Why would they try to steal business from their best customers?
Only the Postal Service managers know the answer to that question. You should know, however, that we're not talking about chump change here. In the local markets (Cuba, St. James, Steelville and Bourbon), Three Rivers Publishing spends about $130,000 a year on postage alone.
Those costs are so high because Three Rivers Publishing mails one of its newspapers or its shopper to every address in Crawford County and the St. James ZIP code every week. That is direct marketing at its most efficient and now the Postal Service is selling the same service in competition with the newspapers.
Some of Three Rivers Publishing's best customers are local grocery stores. Mace Supermarkets, in Cuba, and Country Mart and Town & Country in St. James, Steelville and Bourbon run inserts every week. Do you think it would be a good idea for Three Rivers Publishing to start a door-to-door produce delivery business in direct competition with them? Of course not, but that is precisely like what the Postal Service is doing to us. It's even worse, however, because the Postal Service is not a privately owned business; it is a government agency.
It's no secret that the Postal Service is having financial problems, but it should not be solving those problems by stealing business away from newspapers or other private businesses simply because those in charge can't find real solutions to their woes.
And finally, if you want to do some direct marketing, see us instead of the Postal Service. We'll do the same thing they can do for about half the price and we can even print your flier!
Rob Viehman is the publisher of Three Rivers Publishing in Cuba, Mo.