Postal Truck The elimination of Saturday mail delivery by the United States Postal Service, 

How the end of Saturday mail delivery affects publishers, advertisers and readers

Postal Truck

The elimination of Saturday mail delivery by the United States Postal Service, expected to begin in August (although there’s some dispute about whether the move is legal) doesn’t only mean waiting until Monday for letters to arrive. For newspapers that use the post office for home delivery—primarily weeklies but also dailies that have switched to several days a week and rural papers—the decision to end Saturday mail delivery will force them to shift how they cover the news, how they get that news to readers and how they deliver readers to advertisers. In short, Saturday mail delivery is a big deal to the newspaper world.

While big metro newspapers long ago replaced paperboys with professional delivery services, many rural and non-daily newspapers rely on the postal service to deliver every day but Sunday, says Max Heath, who consults on postal issues for publishers including the Publishing Group of America (American Profile, Relish and Spry magazines) and Landmark Community Newspapers (56 newspapers and seven college sports publications).

Even though the change only affects Saturday mail delivery, it will impact most U.S. newspapers in some way, Heath predicts. Trickling down to the deadlines of technical and content writers.

Medium- to large-circulation dailies will see the least impact because, according to Heath, most metro dailies (i.e. with a local coverage area) with a circulation of 25,000 or over use contract carriers for home delivery. These papers typically only mail a few hundred papers a day to avid subscribers far from home.

“In the 25,000-and-under segment, a shift toward [using the post office] becomes more predominant as circulation declines,” said Heath, noting that there are exceptions such as papers that have wide geographic coverage areas that don’t commit a lot of resources to home delivery and typically piggyback on local newspapers’ carrier services. How big a deal is the Postal Service to the newspaper industry? Heath estimates that 80 percent of non-daily newspapers are predominantly delivered by mail.

Weekly, semi-weekly and six-day-a-week papers are likely to see the largest impact. Of those, the large number of weekly and twice-weekly publications that come out on Saturday will need to either move back to Friday or forward to Monday (since there’s no mail delivery on Sunday, either). For six-day-a-week newspapers, the Saturday issue is often the biggest issue with the most advertising, according to Heath.

 

Advertisers will determine how newspapers respond

Advertisers face a tough decision: Will they get the same bang for the buck and a similar audience by moving their ads to Friday or Monday? Their choice, made community by community, will be one factor driving newspaper publishers to consider dropping a Saturday issue or switching to expensive contract carriers.

“Those dailies with Saturday issues must discern whether their advertisers will live with Friday. Some, like the Cadillac, Mich., daily [Cadillac News] with a Saturday issue and large shopper to non-subscribers, will likely go to home delivery by contract carriers,” said Heath. “The effects will vary from paper to paper, depending on Saturday advertising and whether it can keep the advertisers on another day or will also be forced to consider contract delivery. Some non-dailies with Saturday may have a bigger percentage of advertising on Saturday than, say, a six-day daily with Saturday issue,” said Heath.

Chris Huckle, publisher of the Cadillac News, said in a piece posted on his newspaper’s website that the post office has forgotten about newspapers.

“We know that people not only want their news delivered on the weekends but also their letters, cards, bills, payments and other communication,” wrote Huckle, who declared that his newspaper will continue to publish on Saturdays and find another way to deliver.

“We’re the major mailer by far in our market area. And we do care about our Saturday delivery. If you (upset publishers), they’re going to find other ways to deliver their products,” Huckle told USA Today, explaining that approximately 75 percent of Cadillac News’ postage budget goes toward delivery of the Saturday edition and a supplement on Monday.

Tonda Rush, CEO of the National Newspaper Association, the industry group of community newspapers, said his organization opposes eliminating Saturday delivery.

“A USPS whose focus is on urban delivery of packages and advertising — which is where it seems to be headed — is a USPS that is not fully serving the nation,” said Tonda.

 

Digital, late delivery part of the solution

One possible upshot of the end of Saturday mail delivery will be papers investing more in a digital strategy. For newspapers that publish on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, many of their subscribers receive their papers the following day by mail. For them, the end of Saturday mail delivery could lead to subscription cancellations, especially since 10 federal holidays land on Mondays, said Heath, who explained that this issue is more likely to affect papers in rural areas because for them, contract delivery could be prohibitively expensive.

The in-county cost for a 5 ounce paper delivered by the post office is less than 10 cents per piece, said Heath. Contract delivery ranges from 12 to 15 cents in city areas and 25 to 30 cents in rural areas, or a 20 to 200 percent increase in cost. Why the extra cost? Using private carriers means newspapers have to create driving routes, hire a supervisor, verify delivery, recruit and contract carriers that typically don’t stick around too long, develop a legal contract, and decide whether to provide accident insurance for drivers. Hiring third-party companies to do the job will work for some papers but likely not for rural ones.

 

How an end to Saturday delivery might affect the news itself

The Wise County Messenger in Decatur, Texas, is a Wednesday/Saturday paper with a circulation of 6,000. It also publishes a supplement called All Around Wise that is both mailed separately (21,845 copies) to non-subscribers and part of the Wednesday edition. All of its printed material are delivered by mail.

Roy Eaton, publisher, is concerned that elimination of Saturday delivery will hurt high school sports coverage—he has eight schools in his coverage area. The Messenger will likely change its publication days to Tuesday/Friday, cramping its ability to deliver the high school sports stories for which parents scoop up papers each weekend.

Eaton says his staff will respond by creating an online page or product covering high school football that will be published on Friday night or early Saturday and will include printable versions of each story and photo for parents to clip out for their scrapbooks.

“It will be a gigantic pain in the butt, but we’re continuing to plan. If something in Washington doesn’t change, we will probably make the switch in late July, early August,” said Eaton.

Photo used via Creative Commons license courtesy of superba.

 

 

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