I think we can all agree we’d like to see the venerable old USPS survive its current difficulties, and adapt to the needs of the 21st century to remain competitive. Just about everybody who has been shipping E-bay items and gifts for the holidays lately, and indeed for the past few years, has been caught up short by the rate hikes. If you’re like me, you may have personally taken a bath because you under-quoted a rate for someone. I’m not just talking to overseas buyers either, but domestic ones.
“Book rate” (old-school lingo for what is now known as “Media mail,” was one of those sacrosanct bits of American business culture we could all count on. Sell or buy a book, magazine, or even music or film in CD/DVD form, and get it anywhere in the country for less than a couple of bucks. Not only has this rate doubled (here I’m quoting personal experience,) domestically, but it is now cost-prohibitive to sell, in physical form, your novel or collection or handbook to overseas markets (its status as a book is irrelevant; the rate is strictly by weight, if over one U.S. pound.) I yesterday found that a single 2-pound copy of my novel (540-page paperback in a bubble envelope) would cost nearly $25.00 US to post to a reader in Great Britain. That’s almost 10X the rate within our own country. A single book.
That’s a dealbreaker. I’d do better (a little) “gifting” her my volume direct from Amazon UK. But I still can’t make a farthing that way–and indeed, I’d be losing my shirt.
This is more than a simple complaint about inflation. We’re talking about a branch of the federal government that cuts costs, updates its business practices (note the solar panels on the above truck), and literally can’t take your money fast enough, so that many branches have installed a computerized teller to help cut down the long lines. And still, they can’t afford to help keep vital small businesses, not to mention literacy in our culture, alive?
Sure, e-books, e-books. They’re great, except for those who can’t (many people) or won’t (not without justification) use them. And of course, refusing to patronize the USPS only contributes to the vicious cycle of their demise/our loss.
The writing is, so to speak, on the wall. Try finding paper tax forms this season–you’d better hurry. They want you to e-file. Bank records? In the computer. Speaking of these, about seven years ago, the state in which I reside accused me of not filing my tax return for year 200x, promptly doubled the amount supposedly owed, and then penalized me, to the tune of $750 for a lost document I did, in fact, file. But against the age-old advice, I had not retained copies of my tax records more than a few years old. They lost it; I lost it–what are the chances? It was finally only a slip of paper, a returned check, endorsed by the state comptroller, that proved my innocence. This personal digression is only to help make the point that paper, indeed, still has its place. Ever lose your precious photos to a crashed hard drive? Non-digitized books, films and TV, photographs–these form part of the records of our lives, our families, and our society. Can the Feds adapt to that?