Opt Me Out! The United States Postal Service Needs an Overhaul

Opt Me Out! The United States Postal Service Needs an Overhaul

Summary: The volume of physical spam I receive, aka junk mail, is now becoming an absolutely intolerable situation. Nothing less than a complete overhaul of the entire US Postal Service is in order.


The volume of physical spam I receive, aka junk mail, is now becoming an absolutely intolerable situation. Nothing less than a complete overhaul of the entire US Postal Service is in order.

My friend and colleague David Strom, over at his site Strominator.com, in a reaction to recent congressional hearings about possible changes to the United States Postal Service, has proposed a very interesting idea -- that Netflix should take over the USPS. His reason? Netflix has been an effective user of the postal service with its standardized DVD mailers, their elimination of stamps and a corporate culture that is the polar opposite of the way USPS works with its own employees and treats its customers.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

I'm not going to debate whether Netflix is necessarily the best steward for the USPS or if the USPS should follow a Netflix-like business model. Indeed, Netflix itself is more and more getting out of the business of sending DVDs snail mail and are moving towards Internet content delivery with devices like the Roku and their Instant Play service. What I will say is that the USPS is woefully outdated, inefficient and wasteful.

[EDIT: I previously added "and costs taxpayers way too much money to run." The USPS is a government-run corporation and income generating entity for the US Treasury and receives no tax dollars, apparently. However, when it was formed in 1971, it received a 3 billion dollar subsidy from the US Government. The 2008 USPS Annual Report shows an approximate 3 billion dollar capital contribution from the US Government. ]

It's time that the Postal Service enters the 21st century and adapts a number of modernization methods, the most significant being how to deal with junk mail.

Yes, junk mail. Physical spam. The never ending pile of dead trees that seems to stuff our mailboxes every week, which includes all sorts of commercial mails we never opted-in on, or knew we opted-in on by virtue of joining any number of mailing lists for companies we thought would handle our personal information in a discreet manner. Just as certain types of robocalls should be made illegal and we have the ability to opt-out of telemarketing calls through a government web site, we should also have the ability via a web site to opt out of entire classes of mail sent through the USPS.

How do we do this? Every type of commercial/bulk mailer should be required by law to use a bar code that classifies it in a number of pre-defined categories, which will get sorted via electronic scanner prior to delivery. The major ones that we want to be concerned with is Legal or Time-Sensitive Official Correspondence, Municipal/Government, Financial (Bills), Health (Lab reports, medical records, medication), Periodicals (Magazines/Newspapers) and lastly and most importantly, Bulk Marketing Materials (Catalogs, Get Rich Quick Letters, Coupon Mailers, etc).

As with the National Do Not Call Registry, I should be able to register my home address and opt out of anything that fits in the Bulk Marketing Materials category, which alone should reduce the pile of crap that accumulates on my mantle by my front door by about 95 percent, and allow me to find the stuff that is actually important.

[EDIT: Apparently, the Direct Marketing Association has created a website where you are able to opt-out of THEIR managed lists. You can try it out at https://www.dmachoice.org. I've registered and opted out of catalogs and magazines and a whole bunch of other junk, but apparently to opt out of credit offers you have to go to an external website, OptOutPreScreen.com that asks for your Social Security Number. There is also CatalogChoice.org, which allows you to fine tune your catalog choices but does not allow you to opt out of ALL of them in one fell swoop. As to the effectiveness of dmachoice.org and whether it works or piles more junk into my mailbox, I'll let you know in 90 days.]

Mandatory registration of commercial bulk mailing entities and electronic sorting and "physical spam assassination" will also reduce the amount of paper waste that is occurring and reduce de-forestation and our global carbon footprint, because once companies get "Do not mail" notifications from the USPS's database, they won't waste postage on sending stuff that is going to go right in the garbage when the USPS scans it and checks it against their "Do not mail" database and sends them a monthly electronic "Bounce" reports on garbage volumes from rejected addresses.

If businesses try to game the system by attempting to re-categorize their physical spam as something other than "Bulk Marketing Materials" I should be able to read their number off the barcode and file a complaint on the USPS "Do Not Mail" website which should have real consequences if businesses that do commercial mailings of bulk marketing material get high bounce rates. Is snail-mail spam making your life a living hell and making it harder to sort out your most critical correspondence? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Browser, Hardware, Software Development


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • They Can't Change It

    The ONLY people using the Postal System today are Direct Marketers, Billers and Magazines. That's why the only mail in your post box is catalogs, bills and magazines. 85% of current USPS revenue is from bulk mailers of which Direct Marketers are the largest share. So the Postal Service has two options. Spam you (to use your term) or shut down.

    Another big segment of revenue comes from fulfillment services. Many carriers (FedEx smart post for one) use the USPS for last mile delivery in a B to C context.

    Losing a significant portion of Direct Marketing postage revenue would be a substantial negative to the post office. Think of it as a subsidy or like the ads on ZDNet.
    • Absolutely correct

      Your point is dead on shollomon.

      You and every other American can thank all that junk mail piling up in your inbox for keeping your first class stamps at $0.44, and your flat rate parcel boxes from costing as much as Fedex.

      I own a lettershop - a company that deals with large volume mailings for our clients. Everyone, from Microsoft, CNet, Sears, American Express, etc... I mean *everyone* that spends any amount of advertising dollars knows good old fashion mail gets the highest rate of returns (BY FAR!)... and that's not going to change anytime soon. So the reality is, there's ZERO motivation for the advertisers to change their ways, and even less for USPS.

      You know what works for most people? Put a nice note on your mailbox that says "No junkmail please!". Almost every postal worker will respect that. As for the addressed junk, simply write "PLEASE REMOVE MY NAME" clearly on the piece and Return to sender! No mailer wants to waste postage money on someone that won't even open their piece... The solutions already exist, and it doesnt' require a crazy complicated scheme. :)

      • Death Spiral

        I am the CFO for a company with a significant direct marketing (mail) business. The problem for the industry is continued increases in mailing costs (postage, printing, paper, list acquisition, etc.) and stagnant response rates. If rates go up and response rates remain flat it does not take long before mailing is unprofitable. Prospecting is already unprofitable for most direct marketers except in very narrow segments.

        So at the USPS, demand declines and they raise rates. This pushes up costs to mailers and makes more lists unprofitable so mailings decline some more, which prompts the USPS to raise rates -- etc.

        Printed magazines are on the decline, direct marketers are pulling back from mailing and billers are pushing electronic billing/bill payment. I don't see how the USPS survives over the long term. At the very least the cost of 1st Class postage could go to $2 or $3 in a relatively short period of time.

        The good news, for those who don't like catalogs and other direct solicitations in their snail mail, is that the market will solve their problem.
        • Q: How do they survive?

          A: Government subsidies.

          That's the only way that the USPS, Amtrak, or any other quasi-government agency can survive.

          If you don't have a viable business model, you should be allowed to fail. I don't care if you're the postal service, a bank, an airline, a car company, et. al.
          • RE: How do they survive

            eh? unfortunately there are some goods and services where the benefits are largely in the form of externalities and cannot therefore be viable businesses. That's why government has to support them - to your list you can add the police, the fire department, the military... All of which provide tangible benefits to society, none of which are viable on their own. You willing to "allow them to fail"? The postal service falls into the same category.
      • send junk mail back!

        Whenever I get junk mail, I save it and put it in the postage paid envelopes from other junkmail that I get.
    • WRONG!

      They CAN change it, but the junk mail/spam lobby won't let them (and they don't want to).
      We are stuck with a "reverse subsidy" in this situation because first class mail subsidized junk mail not the other way around.
    • So then shut them down...

      Man, who uses snail mail anymore for ANYTHING? I pay my bills online, my paycheck is direct deposit, my magazine subscriptions are in the process of being turned into monthly subscriptions to online magazines.

      Snail Mail is pretty much dead. Just let the people know that they have so many more years before the mail system will be shut down entirely, so those handful of people who are without computers and email can move into the 21st century. Or, for those who insist on using snail mail, they can pay a premium and use FedEx.
  • I have a simpler solution.

    All mail that is not personal in nature must enclose a mailer to return the mail to the sender and that sender must pay for receipt of any returned material. Failure to enclose a mailer is punishable by a $500USD fine per incident.

    You can also try this:
    • I already do that to those bastards at Geico.

      When (not if) they send me yet another mailing trying to convince me they are cheaper (they aren't), I cram it all into the nice envelope they thoughtfully enclose that is already "meter stamped", and mail it back to them, so they not only get to pay for sending it to me, they get to pay for me sending it back to them as well.
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • Maybe their insurance would be cheaper

        if you didn't keep doing that. ;)
        Michael Kelly
      • You must be some kinda special!

        I average about two junks per month from Geico and I never get a return envelope. That pisses me off because, with the ones that do provide an envelope, I usually do just like you do. I let them pay the return postage.

        [i]trying to convince me they are cheaper (they aren't),...[/i]

        No kidding, huh? The one time I called them for a quote, they quoted me a premium 35% HIGHER than I currently get. When I laughed and told the rep that, he said "Well, we could change your options and increase your deductibles to lower the price." I laughed again and hung up. Maybe THAT'S why they don't provide an envelope. :)

        • No kidding

          I swear I am not making this up:

          I bought my daughter a car a couple of years ago. Geico wanted $4,900 every six months (That's not a typo. They wanted four THOUSAND nine hundred dollars every six months.)

          I thought "Well, that can't possibly be correct.", so I rechecked it a few more times. Each time I got the same amount: $4,900.

          I went to State Farm and got exactly the same coverage that Geico want $4900 for... I paid State Farm less than $300 for it.

          Later on, after that enormous quote, I got a series of junk mails from Geico that made me laugh. They read something like "Why not give us another look? Our rates for your coverage may have decreased."

          Needless to say, I did not and will not give Geico "another look".

          And if that wasn't enough reason to tell them, their cavemen and their Gecko to FOAD, I refuse to do business with Geico because of those godforesaken "That's the money you could be saving with Geico." commercials
          Hallowed are the Ori
      • Pre-paid reply envelopes

        Almost every time something [i][b]unsolicited[/b][/i] comes that has a "business reply envelope", I will use that envelope to send all their material [b]back[/b] to them, including their original envelope.
        It has been suggested to take that envelope, open it up, wrap and tape it around a brick. They will have to pay the postage on that brick. >:-) *weg*
        • I go one step further...

          I collect those prepaid return envelopes and I
          stuff them with as much snail spam as I can stuff
          in (and still seal it closed), and then I mail
          them back.
    • Nope

      This is not the case. If so, then all postcards would be in violation of this ruling. Have you seen a return mailers attached to any postcards you've received recently. NO, that's what I thought.
  • But Junkmail is a major source of revenue for them...

    ... each piece of junkmail is a contributing to the pay of everyone in the USPS system. That's why they like it. I'm curious how a 'company' like the USPS even loses money. With all of the packages being sent these days, you would think they would get a share of it, but not may people trust the USPS to deliver important packages (I know I don't). SO it's junkmail delivery.
  • RE: Opt Me Out! The United States Postal Service Needs an Overhaul

    I do it every time i move. I opts you out of any bulk mailing. http://www.obviously.com/junkmail/

    The bulk mailings already have special electronic stamps that list them as such. Same thing with charity and political. We have charity pricing here that is printed on each envelope. The only people who still use stamps are generally individuals. Everyone who uses a printed stamp usually gets a discount or atleast is able to be electronically billed.. which is why they use the printed on stamp.

    The thing here is that the post office makes money by deliveriing bulk mail.. why would they want to give everyone a way to opt out?
  • won't work

    snail mail is not as bad as email spam, but USPS won't try to block it since it's generating revenue for them.
    The only positive outcome would be that it would save some trees.
    If you want to get rid of paper mail just send back the postage prepaid reply envelope empty and with your address as originator.
    They don't like getting spamed back and paying for useless mail.
    It worked for me.
    Linux Geek
  • Or you can just throw it in the trash

    and NOT have the government regulate yet another aspect of

    Apparently, a radical concept in today's world.