How are non-US postal services handling the shift to email?

There are a handful of threads about how the increase in email and electronic billing/payment is wreaking havoc with the USPS revenues (recent GQ thread here). There are lots of side questions and debates about the roll of the post office, but rather than highjack another thread, I thought to ask here.

Is it correct to assume that other countries’ postal systems are largely government services? I know delivery companies have global scope, but do other countries protect their postal services similarly? Are other nation’s postal services finding themselves in a financial quandary? Are letter rates, delivery times, and delivery schedules comparable?

Every country* has a public, subsidized postal service. Every country has some level of private sector augmentation (like courier services, at least). You can even get mail in Antarctica (via the Australian postal service).

A very few countries and areas have no home delivery. For example, while the UAE has an otherwise normal postal service, Dubai (and I think Abu Dhabi) has no street addresses**, so delivery is limited to post office boxes.

*even most of the ones currently fighting civil wars.
**explaining this is another thread, but basically Dubai is split into named sections and streets within each section are numbered. Addresses are not.

ETA: in-country postage rates are broadly similar to those in the US. It costs 46p (about 70 US cents) to mail an ordinary letter within the UK. On the other hand, it costs 5 rupees to send a letter within India, or about 10 cents.

Not in all cases. Germany used to have Deutsche Post, which was govt., but now is acompany (also splitting of the Postbank and the parcel service DHL).

The competition is from private letter carriers picking the raisins - big cities - while leaving the nasty mess - small villages and single hard to access hamlets - to the “real” Post. Some years ago there was a big court case because the private companies were paying sub-standard wages (1/3 lower!) and thus underbidding the Post, and claiming that with standard wages they couldn’t exist. (Well duh!)

Some exceptions have been made partly on pressure from courts and the EU in the past years, but mostly the private competition only wants business mail (big, collected in bulk) in cities (can be delivered on bike, no need for a fleet of trucks and renting space on airplanes like the real post), not the whole letter service.

The parcel service has had competition for a long time, though DHL claims it’s the biggest (for example, doing logistics for the Olympics) and has bought several companies in other countries.

For a normal person (Joe Smith), going to the next post office is still the standard option for normal letters. Even though many branch offices have been closed, many small kiosk, office shops, coffee shops, now offer “postal services” like selling stamps and accepting parcels. (Though anything complicated they don’t know or don’t want to do.)

If sending a parcel, people have different options, but finding the best price for an individual parcel can be a hassle, because each company calculates different. So standard is once again the post office.

Some big mail-order companies use other parcel services because of extra service, like you call them and they pick up the parcel you want to return at your home, instead of you having to schlep it all the way to the PO during opening hours.

A new improvement of the Post is the Packstation - a machine where your parcels are delivered and you retrieve them with a magnetic stripe card 24/7, or send parcels off. Good for people who work all day.

The post office also offers the postal recognition process (Postident), which is quite important and on the upswing with web-based banks and other services. It means that if a bank or other service that doesn’t have branches wants or needs to verify a new customers’ identity, they send a piece of paper with the name and barcode. The customer takes this paper and his official ID to the post office, and the post employee verifies that the picture on the ID matches the person, and the info on the ID matches the print, scans the barcode, signs the form and sends it to the company.

That the post office offers this service is obviously a hold-over from the old days when postal employees were state employees and thus legally enabled to perform identification.

As for competition from Email: the Post has recently introduced a “E-Postbrief” (E-letter) with lots of ads.* The idea is that an email can easily be faked, and often changes. Instead, you register an easily remembered permanent email from your name, pay a fee (less than a stamp for snail mail), and send a secure and certified Email to somebody else. (If the receiver doesn’t have an account - your grandma for example - the Post will print the Mail, put it in an envelope and deliver normally.)

  • I dislike the aggressive ads coupled with a prize game, but in order to register, you need a damn cell phone. No cell phone - no Epost for you! Why the fuck, they didn’t tell me, didn’t even bother to answer my question.

Obviously, this won’t replace normal Email, but with more and more important and secure transactions over the internet and the need for verification in connection with signing of documents, there could be a niche.

I have no idea on letter rates, delivery times and schedules for the US, so I can’t compare them.

The rates and usual delivery times for national and international can be found on the Post website.

Delivery schedule is once per day, the time depends on where on the circuit of your personal mailman you live.

Other nations also have a different pricing scheme. The US post office tells us so every time they raise postage. Nations like Germany, Japan have a sliding rate depending how far the letter goes. Several smaller nations charge a greater rate. Or words to that effect, I’m not researching the specifics, just giving you the general spiel. Like Really Not All That Bright: said, other nations run on a different system of subsidized private enterprise.

This is pure WAG from me, but it seems plausible to me that the US govt. demands a cheap, single rate for mail across the US to promote cohesion. I can send a letter to Texas or California for the same price as across town. That makes me more likely to do business with people across the US, and makes me care about them, and their problems, and their ideals more. Otherwise, the US would likely fall apart along ideological lines reinforced by geography. Like how people often claim that all of California is hippy La-La land or “the South wants to secede again? Let 'em go this time.”

Well, duh. I can’t send a letter the same distance from Alaska to Hawaii because Germany is smaller. If I send a letter 2 500 km from Munich, it’s another country, so therefore there will be a different price. That price will depend on which group the country is in - Europe, World 1, World 2 (the rest).

Or at least that’s how it used to be - now it seems they have merged everything to international with one price. Huh.

Cecil had a column once about how international post works - with exchanges based on the volume of mail (and that journals mess it up), so it makes sense that small nations with relativly few volume have different equipment (no automatic sorting centers, for example) and therefore charge more. Or if they receive more international mail than they send, they need a larger recompensation than countries where it’s more or less equal.

Direct debit was standard in Spain way before we heard the word “internet”, so no worries there. The same people who used to offer payment by “postal order” (magazine subscriptions and organizations with yearly fees) still do.

Spain’s Correos has grown its banking services (for a while these were part of BBVA, nowadays they’re with DB; they also offer Western Union); it sees less personal letters than before email; telegrams are pretty much a thing of the past, but they’ve been since regular post became reliable and phones widespread. It’s still a good way to send packages, their certified deliveries are automatically acceptable by the Spanish legal systems (with courier services, you may need to prove that the courier service is “well-established as a reliable agent”), they offer some unique services such as burofax, poste restante or P.O. boxes… they’ve gotten rid of pick-up mailboxes almost completely, nowadays if you need to send something by post you go to the Post Office. There are less workers, but this is in part due to automatization: where 15 years ago you’d drop a letter in a different half of the mailbox depending on whether it was “in town” or “out of town” and they’d get (pre)sorted manually in each Office, now it all goes to any of half a dozen sorting centers, where it’s sorted by machine.

Does it? It’s a bit misleading to call the USPS subsidized, when the only government money it receives is for services to overseas voters and the disabled. I’m sure these services represent only a tiny fraction of its operations.

I don’t mean it as a criticism. That said, it’s certainly fair to call the USPS subsidized considering its facilities were nearly all purchased with taxpayer money, even if its ongoing operating costs are not.

So how do the (relatively) recent complaints that the USPS is about to go under due to loss of business to e-mail/banking/etc hold up to the rest of the world?

I’m getting a sense that prices and services don’t vary by *that *much (some larger differences here and there but it doesn’t sound like it’s completely different overseas). But I don’t seem to see that other country’s public/private/subsidized services are in distress over the loss of revenue.

Political claptrap here, or key differences in initial service setup or geography (e.g. one-cost regardless of distance)?

Then at what point does a privatized or independently operated, self-financing government agency count as non-subsidized? Once its proportion of government-purchased assets falls below 50%?

I don’t know, but I can think of several reasons:

  1. It’s common in the US to complain about things without looking at the facts, just going by the pundits. (E.g complaining about the high tax rate of 35% stifling growth, while ignoring that during the booming 60s, it was 70%, yet there was plenty of growth).

  2. Larger area (see the link from Arkcon) might mean that USPS has larger expenses, but the (uninformed) public doesn’t allow raising prices to reality.

  3. Different setup: as Nava pointed out, European countries didn’t send cheques per mail for decades. So there was no sudden drop in amount due to online-banking. A drop of (guess) 15% in one year is different to a drop of 1% for 15 years.

And the German post has also complained, just not very loud, that letters are dropping. They’ve had ad campaigns for several years to “write a letter again”, even offering free (cheap) letters (one page with a printed picture on the outside, just write, fold, seal and add stamp) to encourage people to write. Still, it’s generally dying out. My mother used to write by hand long letters - now she, too, finds Email faster and more comfortable, and hasn’t written a real letter in ages.

Who pays the pensions for the workers? That’s a big part of the budget (esp. if they didn’t have to lay aside the amount in previous years).

And having a property in prime city place without needing to pay rent is a huge factor in the total budget. It would only be important once the buildings need repair, but then there is the option of selling the valuable ground and building or renting a new place elsewhere cheaper.

USPS employee pensions are managed under the general federal employee plan but funded separately from USPS revenue.

Things which have been privatized are, by definition, no longer government agencies. The USPS is not privatized; it’s wholly owned by the federal government. Plus, if the USPS suddenly fell massively into the red and was unable to cover its operating costs, Congress would pick up the tab.

I guess nowadays that doesn’t make the USPS much different from any large business though. :smiley:

Is parcel service part of USPS or seperate? Because while Emails cut into letters*, a lot of new parcel service has been added due to internet shops. I got about half a dozen small parcels in the past weeks, from buying on amazon and from trading books via Bookcrossing. (Though books are cultural and thus have a reduced rate).

  • Although a lot of emails also replace phone calls. I certainly didn’t write so many letters by hand as phone a lot of people before internet.


Common sense?

In Canada the local rate is 57 c. Of course, that will pay for a letter from Newfoundland to Tuktoyuktuk in the NW Yukon. It will doubtless go up on Jan. 1; it always does. Mail to the US costs, IIRC, $1.04 and to anywhere else in the world it is fast approaching $2. The last time I sent a letter was about 6 months ago, a condolence to the wife of a Swiss friend of mine and I didn’t know her email address (or whether she had one). I still mail an occasional check, but most bills I pay online.

Speaking of the Swiss, they privatized their PTT (and renamed it SwissComm, what language is that?) at least 15 years ago. But as of the last time I was there they maintained a monopoly of phone service (which did not, for instance, allow even one phone extension in a home). This meant that all long distance calls were extremely expensive.

The OP mentioned the rise in electronic payment. Do you guys have anything like our epost yet? It’s a way for Canada Post to act as a middle-man for electronic payments as well as other financial stuff (I get my pay stubs by epost as well). It only works for payees that choose to make use of epost (for example, I can use it for my Bank of Montreal Mastercard, but not my American Express card), but it seems to be slowly growing.

US banks offer most of the stuff ePost appears to directly. Maybe I’m missing something.

Does the bank actually pass on the bill to you itself electronically and remove the need to get the bill mailed to you or go to the payee’s web site to get it? We can pay our bills electronically via banks as well, but epost is a little fancier than that.