Why Congress Should Bailout the USPS

Written By: Kim - Sep• 05•11

I have been watching the perils of the United States Post Office in the news. Its financial situation, is, at best, crap. They may default on a $5.5 million trust fund payment for retirement funds unless the United States Congress steps in. I am not sure which is worse: The fact that this organization that has been around since 1775 is about to go under or the fact that it is asking Congress for help.

If the USPS goes under, it would be awful for all of its 574,000 employees. It would hugely inconvenience postal customers. What will “mail call” look like to our military personnel? No more care packages. No more scented letters from home. No more updated pictures to tuck in to a helmet or vest pocket. No more Girl Scout cookies sent every spring as a small reminder of home.

©Ken Kiser courtesy of StockXchng

Who is going to deliver our mail? Yes, many of us bank online and no longer receive bills in the mail. But not every business operation or consumer is set up to deliver or receive information electronically. My Dad is one such customer who does not own a computer. Yeah, he’s old school, but that’s for another blog post.

UPS and FedEx are the only other options out there who might be able to step in and fill the void. But would they want to? I would not touch the USPS’s problems with the proverbial 10 foot pole. Well, actually I could, but I wouldn’t make any friends along the way: think Michelle Rhee and DC public schools.

As a magazine publisher, I am extremely concerned.

  1. Who is going to deliver my association’s magazine, ACC Docket? Sure, we have a digital edition we’ve published since October 2007 that all of our members and subscribers receive. We also launched a mobile app in October 2010. But when surveyed, the majority of our members still want the print version.
  2. Are our advertisers ready, willing and technically adept to make the switch to providing digital advertising? How will the possible failure of the USPS impact our advertising revenue? One reason print editions still exist is that the advertising industry is not ready to completely give up print. Ad revenue is still heavily tied to print editions. Is this changing? Sure. But not nearly as fast as digital and mobile gurus would have you believe.
  3. USPS’s failure puts printers out of business. Magazine delivery can still happen in digital and mobile formats. But no longer printing our magazine affects our printer: hours or jobs would be cut. Is it because we are its biggest customer? No. It’s because everyone who publishes a magazine or journal will no longer have a distribution channel if the USPS goes under. We will all be forced to go digital and mobile simply to deliver content to our members and readers.

I am not sure the print industry would survive if this happened. This means around 594,000 men and women in the printing industry could be out of work. This number doesn’t even include folks in the paper industry, binding work, and other industries that work closely with printers. We could potentially see 1 million Americans out of work. This is not a stat I would want if I held political office.

Am I proposing that Congress gives the USPS carte blanche bailout money? Hell no. Anyone who’s ever been to an onsite post office or applied for a US passport knows that the USPS needs major TQM PDQ (Total Quality Management pretty darn quick). And then there’s the whole union issue which needs to be pruned. As in cut away forever. But if the USPS fails, and it likely could, it’s impact is widespread.

The US economy can ill afford this kind of set back now. Just as the 2008 big three car company crisis severely affected our economy, so would the failure of the USPS. We did not let the big three fail, nor should we let the USPS.

Cut the Fat Publishers

Written By: Kim - Jan• 11•11

I love magazines. I could spend a lot of my time simply perusing the magazine displays at the bookstores. I am fascinated by their design, subject matter, the paper choice and yes, even the advertisements. I am blessed to have a job I love in magazine publishing.

I subscribe to five magazines and four newspapers. Both industries have suffered huge financial setbacks over the last decade. Advertising revenue, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, has hit rock bottom. Digital, tablet and social media publishing are putting a dent in the traditional print medium and forcing us to rethink how we deliver content. If this shift has occurred, why do many of these magazines still have so many staff? What kind of implosion does it take before we operate with a staff ratio that makes sense?

Business 101 tells me that if my revenue decreases I either have to increase it or cut costs. If current mastheads on magazines are any indication of cutting costs, no wonder the industry is floundering so. It hasn’t learned to publish lean. For example, why does Glamour have 75 editorial staff listed on the February masthead? This number does not even include the advertising, marketing and public relations staff on the following page. This particular issue had 200 pages in it. So, basically, for each page produced, almost one staff member worked on it. Astounding. Ridiculous.

The February issue of Glamour also had “Cover Reads.” Half of these articles were Q&As — the lazy writer’s approach to journalism. Any editor worth her salt won’t allow this many Q&As in one issue. I avoid them in my magazine, and so should you, Glamour staff. Surely you can get your writers to be better wordsmiths. If you want me to read your content, write your content by telling a story.

I serve on a nonprofit board of association magazine publishers — Association Media & Publishing. I learned from a fellow board member that in the publishing world there is a hierarchy: publishers of consumer and business magazines/books, newspaper publishers and association publishers. Apparently, association publishers, a group I have belonged to for some time, are considered bottom dwellers in the publishing world, despite any editorial or design excellence awards we earn. I knew we weren’t famous, but bottom dwellers? Once I got over my shock, I got mad. My response to him: at least we still have a job. Our magazines aren’t folding.

My print publication is not losing ad revenue. In fact, 2010 was the biggest revenue year we have on record. This year is tracking well and we have never lost ad revenue. How many other publishers can brag about that? Name one.

We stay on top of publishing trends. We launched a digital publication in 2007 and an iPad app in 2010. We don’t double bill our members. How many publishers have launched apps and then charged their customers again despite the fact that they already subscribe to the print version? Most of them. This is a sham and should be stopped. This circulation model is outdated.

This is like paying more for something I order online verses purchasing it in a brick and mortar store. Consumers and the business community would crucify retailers if they did this. Yet, in the publishing world, no one blinks an eye.

Association publishers produce award-winning content. We design award-winning covers and spreads. Some of these are the same award contests you enter. We do this with four editorial staff, two advertising staff and a small, local design studio — Bussolati.

Being great at what you do doesn’t mean you have to be top heavy. You find a story and tell it. You deliver relevant content to your audience. You maintain fiscal responsibility by staying lean and working smart. You continue to publish the magazines and newspapers we love.