Johnson's World: Going Postal in a FedEx World

Poor business practices will not help the USPS survive as other options become cheaper, easier, and more convenient.

March 1, 2013

A recently published editorial cartoon by nationally syndicated cartoonist Scott Stantis lampooned, not President Obama, not Congress, not the national debt, but the United States Postal Service.

Picturing a fax machine, a desktop computer, and a smartphone, the caption read, “yet another postal rate increase lol J”

Stantis is, of course, making fun of the United States Postal Service for raising rates (again) in January. He may or may not be aware that at the same time the Postal Service raised rates it also began enforcing more restrictive presort regulations. Do you expect a print booster like Steve Johnson to take issue with Stantis? Nothing doing! I’m with him 100 percent.

Scott is no fool. His political cartoons appear in more than 400 mainstream newspapers. His views represent the opinions of many informed Americans. When he points out the idiocy of a business jacking up prices, even as competitors eat it for lunch, we should listen. I am listening. Are you?

Wicked Competition

Stantis is entirely correct when he notes that the USPS has many competitors. I often point out that email, text, and fax are negatively perceived by the public, compared to mail. They are not as reliable and are less read. Yet these alternatives do have two strong positives: they are cheap and easy to use.

You don’t have to be a marketing genius to figure out that raising prices when you already cost more than your newer, high-tech competitors is crazy. Likewise, combining more and more onerous rules, regulations, and restrictions with erratic and arbitrary enforcement seems designed to drive mailers into the arms of competing media.

I find it interesting that parcel delivery services such as UPS and FedEx also increased prices in January, yet they are doing very well, thank you. The difference is perception of value.

Over the years these postal competitors have added delivery options, created online tracking tools, sped up delivery days and times, and beefed up across-the-board on-time guarantees. Shipping via these methods is relatively easy and painless, and quite reliable for large and small shippers alike. Easy, painless, and reliable are not adjectives anyone associates with the United States Postal Service.

Personal Moment

On January 28 I received a note on Facebook saying, “Hello Dad. I think you will find this amusing. I just got your Christmas letter. J Don’t you love Mexican mail? Ha, ha!”

Ha, ha, indeed—instead of ho, ho, ho. I mailed the card on December 17. We’ll never know for sure why it took six weeks to arrive, but I do know that my Christmas card had to cover more ground in the United States than in Mexico. The days when we could smugly belittle the quality of mail service in other countries are long gone.

Sign of Success

Whenever a noun becomes a verb it demarcates a shift in society’s thought process. The verb “text” is a current example of this phenomenon. When a proper noun becomes a verb it shows that, in the public’s mind, you own a process. One of the best examples of all time is the verb “xerox”, which forever means to make a photocopy.

Two of America’s most famous delivery organizations have had their names turned into verbs. Remember, a verb is an action word, and the public has decided what actions it most associates with these two companies.

The term “fed ex” means to reliably deliver overnight. The phrase “going postal” has very different connotations, none of them desirable except, perhaps, to a death metal rock band. Sadly, the public has spoken.

Let me add a final postscript to this commentary. I like to say we get lots of letters here at Johnson’s World, but the truth is we haven’t received a letter in response to a column for many years.

All (and I mean all) of your comments are sent via email or postings on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. I rest my case.

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL; a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at, or send direct feedback about this column via