Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shrinking mailing numbers

Earlier today, I stopped at a small local post office branch to mail a couple of magazines. The magazines contained an article I'd photographed and written; the magazines went to the current owner of the car photographed, and the guy who did the restoration. Cars & parts July issue, 1930 Ford four door phaeton.

I mentioned that the envelopes contained magazines. I was informed that I couldn't use media mail, then. That struck me as asinine, because, as I told the clerk, I'd been sending periodicals by media mail for 50 years or so with no problems whatsoever. She said, "You've been lucky, then, because it has always been this way."


According to the clerk, our beloved U.S.P.S. is now opening mail which they suspect contains magazines and, supposedly, returning the mail (any bets on the return?). No wonder postal rates keep rising. All of this takes time, which is why so many small and medium sized branches have only one person manning the desk when lines wrap nearly round the building, I'd guess. Making sure no one mails a magazine media mail is much more important than selling stamps, money orders and passports.

I'd recently run into another example of asininity when I mailed out about a dozen copies of my latest book to people who had let me photograph their woodworking shops for the book. I mailed all but three through a local post office branch. There were no problems. I stuck two up in my mailbox for pick-up. Both of those were returned to me because they weighed more than 13 ounces.

Any package that weighs more than 13 ounces must be presented in person, by the mailer, at a post office branch. Then you're asked if it contains anything fragile, explosive, or hazardous, all during which the clerk looks anywhere but at you.

That truly must contribute to our safety, giving a statement to a person totally untrained in explosives or reading personalities.

One book disappeared completely. That was sent through the Philadelphia P.O. to a friend who lives just outside Philly. I got a note back saying that the enclosed wrapper was all that they could find; I was to contact the Atlanta branch to see if anyone anywhere had located the book.

Yes. Sure. Really. There was no wrapper enclosed. The book sells for about 20 bucks. Postage was $2.58. I mailed Tom another book, Priority Mail, and it made it through. Yup. Total mailing cost for one book, $27.53.

But wait. I mailed those books against U.S.P.S. rules.

Out of curiosity, I checked the last four books I'd written, and discovered every single one of them carried at least one page of advertising for the publishers' other books.

To make sure this wasn't a new phenomenon for publishers, I checked a book I'd written in '77. The back cover of the book listed about 40-50 other titles from that publisher. Ohmigawd! An ad.

Back in March of 1959, when I arrived at Kaneohe Bay MCAS, I made it into Honolulu fairly quickly, where I grabbed a newspaper or two. After reading them, I stuck them in a manila envelope and mailed them to my mother in New York, using media mail, something I'd just discovered, at the ripe old age of 20. Actually, I was all set to pay Parcel Post or even First Class, but the clerk at the Honolulu Post Office informed me that media mail was for just such mailings, plus books and magazines and manuscripts. At the time, I was an avionics tech, so manuscript mailings weren't of interest.

Now, in 2009, a postal clerk informs me that such use has always been against the rules because newspapers carry ads.

She showed me a rule sheet from '99. Well, OK, but a decade doesn't seem anywhere near "always", to me, so one fine day I'll see what kind of history media mail has, and what its intent was. I seem to recall a founding statement for the P.O. itself that involved "dissemination of information." Another recollection, quite possibly inaccurate, involves media mail making it cheaper for Joe and Jane Average to ship books, newspapers and similar material around the country.

Thomas Paine would weep.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Charlie... I like your snappy articles very much.

    More to the point here though... the French PO has very recently allowed ordinary folk to mail magazines and books at a much reduced "Imprimés" (Printed Matter) rate. It's a real saving (like 50%) for people who buy from me on eBay. But I think they want to keep the news secret as there is no reference to "Imprimés" on their website... you have to present the package at the bureau and be told the good news. Go figure!

    I used to buy 100s of magazines and books on eBay from your side of the pond knowing that the freight charge to the UK or France was peanuts - your "M Bag" system allowed something like 50lbs weight of magazines for about $36 in a canvas mail-bag - which is/was a neat system (despite the 6/8 weeks transit time) that doesn't exist in France to my knowledge.

    All the best - Ed Buziak.