Business direct marketing Media PR and News Value for Value

Tough love from Google and the US Post Office

Two seemingly unrelated news items about the US Post Office and Google caught my attention today.

The first was an article in DM News that said that the US Post Office is intending to penalize mailers who don’t

“meet US Postal Service standards for updating mailing lists, according to Jeff Platt, director of solutions marketing for US mailing at Pitney. Those updates must be applied 95 days before the mailing. As of January 4, 2010, mailers that do not do so will be subject to additional postage of 7 cents per assessed piece.”

Previously, the USPS gave discounts to people who made their mail more efficient. Now they’re getting out the big stick and making people pay for their inefficiency rather than rewarding their efficiency.

And the second was the news that Google is changing their policy about free news content and their “First Click Free” policy. That policy says that if you find content on Google News and click on it, say, an article from the Wall St. Journal, you get to read that article for free. Click on the next article on the site and the Journal lets you know that any additional articles is only available for subscribers, and they’re happy to let you subscribe.

Google is amending their policy to allow publishers who charge for their content to “limit the number of accesses under the First Click Free policy to five free accesses per user each day.”

According to Google, “While we’re happy to see that a number of publishers are already using First Click Free, we’ve found that some who might try it are worried about people abusing the spirit of First Click Free to access almost all of their content.”

I say bravo USPS and Google.

Let’s start with the Post Office. When it comes to the USPS, like most other direct mailers I know I’ve railed against the ever-increasing fees and the amazingly complex discount and fee structure for business mailers. (If you want to wade through the 44 page PDF of the Jan 4, 2010 rates, here it is.)

As the director of integrated marketing at a channel-neutral direct marketing agency, I’m an equal opportunity employer of whatever works: direct mail, email, FedEx, twitter, text, search… you get the point. But if the post office went away, my job would get infinitely tougher.

This time, though, when the USPS institutes a fee that penalizes mailers who don’t engage in smart practices in order to help defray costs and stay afloat, I’m all for it.

Running your mailing list against NCOA won’t catch every piece of undeliverable mail, but it does catch many of them. It saves the mailer the cost of wasted printing and postage, and turns missed opportunity into the chance of a sale. Undeliverable mail that could be avoided is a terrible waste that increases the cost of mail by adding extra work for the mail carrier and the post office, all to no good end.

Now let’s talk about Google and free news. Don’t get me wrong… I get most of my news from Google, for free. I love the WSJ, and I’ll miss getting their content.

But free sample content from the WSJ, or any other publisher for that matter, has never enticed me to subscribe to that publisher, if there were a fee attached. If I encounter a fee, I just move on to the next one for free.

I admit it. I’m a freeloader. And I’ve pretty sure I’ve read more than 5 articles from the Journal over the course of a day by accessing them via Google News.

The discussion about the death of journalism has morphed into a discussion about what news organizations are doing to stay alive, and in some cases, they’re exploring pulling back their free content into models that provide better value for their value. They’re fighting for their survival, and like the USPS, my world will be worse off without them.

There are many models that can be applied to online news that don’t involve the reader paying for their content. I proposed a few here in my blog back in June. From crowdfunding (read this great piece in the Columbia Journalism  Review about the NY Times’ first crowdfunded article) to advertising-supported mega blog news sites like the Huffington Post, most  “alternatives” to traditional news still involve some form of cost defrayal.

In this ever changing world in which we live, one thing is becoming fairly obvious:  if we don’t start paying for what we use, we’re going to lose it.

We’re in the midst of one of the most challenging business cycles of our lives. We’ve seen business after business shut their doors forever. Costs are rising, credit is harder to find, competition is global and the rate of change threatens to swamp old business models that can’t evolve.

And yet there are people who complain about UPS and USPS raising their prices to reflect increased costs, or , god-forbid, a news organization like the Wall St. Journal wanting to get compensated for reporting the news.

Can someone please explain to me how you can be expected to run a business without getting fairly paid for your products or your services?

While I wait for your answer, I’m going to go out and buy a copy of the Journal. Heck, I may even decide to pay for a subscription so I can read it online — the way it should be read.

Business direct marketing Misleadership

Delivery Confirmation Consternation

The other day my wife and daughter and I went for a walk. It had been raining on and off, and now the sun had broken through the clouds and we needed to get outside.

As we walked past one of the units in our garden apartment building, I noticed a USPS package in front of the door to Unit A.

Since I was expecting a package, I went up to check. We’ve only been living in this apartment for about a month, but in that time the Post Office had delivered Unit A’s mail to us in Unit C more than once, so I figured it was only a matter of time before the reverse happened.

The package was actually in the right place, Unit A, except for two minor details. First, Unit A was empty and had been for over a week since the tenants moved out. But more importantly, the package had a Delivery Confirmation label on it.

Now I don’t expect the U.S. Post Office to be mind readers. If someone moves without filing a Change of Address notification, I don’t expect them to peep into a window to find out that the residence is empty. (Although, in this case, since the blinds were up and the apartment was clearly vacant, it wouldn’t have been that hard to guess.)

But I do expect them to deliver on the specific features of a service someone paid extra money for. Here’s the U.S.P.S’s own definition of Delivery Confirmation, from their website:

Verify delivery with Delivery Confirmation.

Our low cost Delivery Confirmation service gives you the date, ZIP Code™ and time your article was delivered. If delivery was attempted you will get the date and time of attempted delivery. You can easily access this information with our Track & Confirm tool.

And from their Delivery Confirmation FAQ:

The customer will be provided the following information about items mailed with Delivery Confirmation:

  • If item was delivered:  the date and time of delivery
  • If delivery was attempted but not successful:  the date and time of the attempt

By what definition is leaving a box in the rain in front of an empty apartment a successful delivery?

I assume it wasn’t an attempted delivery, because that implies that the box wouldn’t have been left there. Although, technically, I guess it was an attempted delivery after all, but probably not in the way the sender was expecting.

As a direct marketer, I’ve had my share of unpleasant surprises from the Post Office. We once did a mailing in the Phoenix, AZ area where the variety of reasons for returned mail was so astounding and inconsistent that our regional rep could only laugh and offer some potential off-the-record explanations that could get them in trouble if I repeated them here. And we all remember the bad old days when Postal Carriers were getting busted for dumping catalogs or storing commercial mail in their lockers and garages.

But for me, this was over the line. I’m not going to get into comparisons with FedEx or UPS, because if you’re like me, you’ve been confounded by their occasional screw ups too. And I’m not going to conflate this into an indictment of  government incompetence and the “public option” like some congressmen or pundits have been doing these days.

But can someone please explain to me what was going through that mail carrier’s head when he or she chose to leave that package in the rain in front of a vacant apartment in spite of the sender having paid extra to know when it was delivered, or if not successful, when delivery was attempted?