I read with interest the announcement sent out by Idealliance about the collaboration among Idealliance, NAPM, and PostCom “to work towards the long-term vitality of mail and ensuring that the mail industry remains at the very center of communication and commerce in the United States and around the globe.”
First, I think it is great that the supply chain is working together. But in the whole document, there is only one mention of working within the multichannel communications environment, and none at all in the press release. There is more emphasis on making mail competitive and fighting the competition.
Personally, I don’t think this is a winning strategy. It reminds me of the millions that were poured into the Print Council initiative a few years ago that didn’t appear to have any effect in stemming the decline in printing shipments in North America.
Dr. Joe Webb has been reporting for some time that the decline in printing shipments is in inverse ratio to the increases in Internet bandwidth. Most recently, he stated, “The sharp decline in printing shipments matches the sharp rise in Average internet connection speed in the United States from 2007 to 2017 (in Mbps), by quarter,” citing a report showing that the average internet connection speed was 18.75 Mbps in the first quarter of 2017. At the same time, his data shows that November 2017 printing shipments were down -3.3% versus last year, the lowest current dollar sales level for November on record since the data series started 1992. October 2017 printing shipments were revised down -$14B. And while I don’t have specific data (maybe Dr. Webb does!), printing that goes into the mail is a significant percentage of print overall. His forecast projects overall printing shipments in the U.S. to decline from $82.7 billion in 2017 to $68.7 billion in 2021.
In the face of this decline, or perhaps in spite of it, it seems to me that rather than taking a defensive posture, “making mail more competitive,” it would be a more effective position, as we discussed in our webinar last week, to focus on redefining the role of print, morphing it into a new role within the multichannel mix – not as a competitor but as a partner in a different approach to customer communications. I was surprised to hear from our webinar panelists that marketers are now moving to the position that mail is a great first touch in a campaign. That’s a great development for the industry!
A lot of this is due to email fatigue, even though email is supposedly less expensive. But when you think it through, you realize that this is largely because of the data infrastructure and the ability to do shorter runs of more targeted communications. This doesn’t boost mail volume, but it does increase the value of the mail piece. In fact, one of the panelists reported that even though the actual number of mail pieces per campaign has sharply declined, his company’s volume has grown with a spike in the number of campaigns being executed. Delivering a full multichannel capability adds to the ability for forward-thinking companies to capture more print volume. Doing print only, and requiring marketers to find another source for the digital components, does not seem to me to be a winning strategy.
I did have a brief conversation with Idealliance CEO David Steinhardt about this announcement, and he pointed out, “Your commentary on the report is on target but fails to recognize that you first need a viable mail channel.” Absolutely true! And for that, I applaud this group for taking on the challenge. I just wish we didn’t always feel like we have to take such a defensive position.
Steinhardt and I will have a more in-depth conversation in the next week or so where he will share more information about what the Postal Regulatory Commission is proposing, along with a deeper dive into what the coalition is doing. Watch this space for more information.
To obtain a copy of the 2018-2020 Mail Supply Chain Strategic Plan, go to: https://www.idealliance.org/mail-supply-strategic-plan.