Why hasn’t anyone invented a service that converts your mail to a digital format that you can conveniently view online? You might wonder. Actually two guys named Evan Baehr and Will Davis did just that; their service worked great—until the Post Office killed it. Derek Khana reports:
[Baehr and Davis] wanted to allow consumers to digitize all of their postal mail so that individuals could get rid of junk mail, keep important things organized and never have to go out to their mailbox again. They set out to “redefine a long cherished but broken medium of communication: postal mail.” Customers would opt-in for $5 a month with “Outbox” to have their mail redirected, opened, scanned and available online or through a phone app. Consumers could then click on a particular scanned letter and ask that it be physically delivered, or that certain types of letters not be opened (e.g., bills etc.).
Will and Evan may have been inspired by their time working on Capitol Hill, as this is essentially the type of technology used in every Congressional Office to manage the deluge of millions of letters from constituents to Congress. If it’s good enough for Congressional offices, they thought, why shouldn’t average people have access to similar technology?
The U.S. Postal Service routinely allows people to contract to have their mail forwarded. That allowed the Outbox business model to work—at first. Then Baehr and Davis got called to a meeting with the Postmaster General:
Evan recounts that US Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe “looked at us” and said “we have a misunderstanding. ‘You disrupt my service and we will never work with you.’” Further, “‘You mentioned making the service better for our customers; but the American citizens aren’t our customers—about 400 junk mailers are our customers. Your service hurts our ability to serve those customers.”’ [InsideSources, April 28]
The Post Office could offer its own digitizing service, but then what would the Post Office do with the thousands of mail carriers and post offices that it would no longer need? In order to downsize itself—as a private business might do when its business model faces stiff competition—the Postal Service needs Congress to pass laws dropping restrictions on reducing its workforce, facilities, and service. So far Congress hasn’t been willing to do that—even in the face of repeated Postal Service defaults on required payments to its retiree health care fund and seven straight years of operating at a deficit.
The Postal Service currently employs nearly 500,000 people in full time positions. If it were a military, the Postal Service would be the tenth largest military in the world. If it were a private company, the Postal Service would be the third largest employer in the United States.