For many printers 2009 was a challenging year of sales decreases; the result of less business from top customers and increased competition for new business from prospects. For printers who are also mailers, mail volume was off as customers had less money to spend on advertising or decided to move mailing dollars to e-marketing alternatives.
The year was extremely challenging for the USPS. Mail volume declined by an unprecedented 28 billion pieces—about 14 percent—to 176 billion pieces. Two forces were at work: the overall economy and the continuing, decade-long shift to Internet-based communication tools.
In July 2009 the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued its High Risk Series report and returned the USPS to its list of high risk areas “needing attention by Congress and the executive branch to achieve broad-based transformation.” (The USPS was last on the list in 2005.) The GAO predicts that mail volume will remain flat over the next five years, which means the USPS will not generate enough revenue to cover expenses and financial obligations.
The Do Not Mail Movement
In both 2007 and 2008, standard mail, which is dominated by advertising mail, provided $20.6 billion of the $74.9 billion and $66.5 billion, respectively, of total USPS revenue, making it an increasingly important part of the USPS financial picture. In an unwelcome and coincidental development, 2007 also saw the introduction in 15 states of legislation to curb the use of advertising mail.
Advocated by several organizations that are part of the Do Not Mail (DNM) movement, the legislation is modeled on the national Do Not Call registry and aims to create a registry of households that have opted out of receiving advertising mail. In 2007, DNM legislation was introduced in 15 state legislatures. In 2008, 12 states were considering DNM, and in 2009 DNM saw additional local involvement in Berkeley, CA, San Francisco, and Seattle. All told, 19 states and three communities have or are considering DNM legislation. There is no federal DNM legislation under consideration.
The DNM registry would operate like Do Not Call—a consumer would enroll in the registry, which then would be distributed to direct mail marketers as a suppression list. Advertisers who ignore the registry would be subject to a fine for each infraction.
Proponents of DNM policies claim that advertising mail is harmful to the environment, makes individuals more susceptible to identity theft and consumer fraud, and is a nuisance. Opponents cite counter claims to refute harmful environmental impact and claim that identity theft and fraud are rare. They also cite studies showing that of all possible advertising methods, including telemarketing and unsolicited e-mail (i.e.: spam), direct mail is preferred by consumers.
In 2009, Postmaster General John Potter took issue with the attacks on advertising delivered via the mail. “Somehow, they think a sale offer coming through the mail—as opposed to a newspaper, a magazine, TV, radio or the Internet—is a bad thing. Ads pay for the Internet, as well as broadcast TV and radio programs,” he said during a speech in October 2009 at the National Press Club. “So, too, ad mail helps pay for universal mail service in America.”
Mail Moves America, a coalition of the Direct Marketing Association and Printing Industries of America, whose executive director Ben Cooper is a former lobbyist for PIA, is spearheading the opposition to DNM legislation. Its Web site, www.mailmovesamerica.org, has facts about the economic impact of advertising mail as well as statistics that provide a different perspective on the environmental impact of ad mail. It points out, for example, that most paper is made from trees grown specifically for that purpose—a sustainable and renewable harvest—and that most advertising mail is recycled. Mail Moves America also has statistics on the economic impact of advertising mail.