That's the question officials plan to address at the PostalVision2020 summit on June 15 in Washington, D.C.
While the U.S. Postal Service -- an American infrastructure story if there ever was one -- manages thousands of layoffs and mounting losses to the tune of $7 billion in a single year, executives plan to look beyond immediate business troubles to focus on a simple, existential question: now what?
Speakers scheduled to present at the conference include Google chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf, interactive journalism thought leader Jeff Jarvis and an array of top consultants.
A knee-jerk response to the question at hand would simply be, "The show's over." Faced with highly disruptive e-mail, social media and instant message channels, it appears that the USPS's business model has migrated away from its post offices and to the screens of millions of smartphones -- for good.
But it's not that simple. The USPS doesn't just deliver personal letters; it also delivers tons upon tons of advertising, packages, magazines and newspapers. Most of these services can be replaced by electronic means -- but not all of them.
Either way, the business model isn't built for this dramatic shift.
Jarvis muses at Buzz Machine:
If all of us are connected, we don’t need the USPS to deliver letters; email is precisely the reason that first class mail is already plummeting. We consumers are, in my view, subsidizing the delivery of advertising because 71% of the USPS margin available to cover its costs comes from first class, only 21% from advertising. Yet in 2009, the USPS delivered an equivalent number of ads vs letters and by 2020 it will deliver far more ads (86 billion ads vs. 53 billion letters, according to the USPS projection). Should an ad-delivery service be the province of a government-anointed entity? I don’t think so.
On the flip side, parcel delivery is on the rise, thanks to the immensely popular online retail industry. Jarvis' recommendation: turn postal delivery into an as-needed service -- and instead of investing in the postal service as we know it, let's move funds toward ensuring broadband connectivity for every American.
USPS officials seem to see the writing on the wall. In April, they approved a scheme to sell gift cards at more than 2,000 locations in an attempt to raise new kinds of revenue. But this move will do little to impact the bottom line as the postal service shutters hundreds of locations nationwide.
What do you think?