The Internet was supposed to be the death knell of the Post Office. With everyone paying bills online, writing emails and capturing documents as PDFs, the amount of snail mail would slow to a crawl. So what happened? eBay. Amazon. Netflix. The New York Times' Katie Hafner
reports that the US Postal Service has been given new life thanks to Internet services that depend on the mails.
“I have one message today for the entire eBay community,” said Postmaster General John E. Potter in a speech to [the eBay conference in Las Vegas]. “We, the Postal Service, we love you. We love every buyer, every seller, every power seller. Thank you for shipping with the United States Postal Service.”
The numbers actually back up both of those assertions. First class mail has dropped 1 percent since 2004 while package deliveries are up 2.8 percent. The data is not conclusive on what part of that gain is attributable to the Internet but USPS thinks it is the driver of new business.
Especially interesting is the level of communication that goes on between the Internet companies and the Post Office.
Netflix is so dependent on the post office that when the company needed to fill the job of chief operations officer, it turned not to a general logistics expert but to someone with an intimate knowledge of how mail gets delivered: [Former postmaster general William J.] Henderson.
Henderson is “the only guy on the planet who looks at our volume of mail and thinks of it as quite small,” said Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, which is based in Los Gatos, Calif. “It’s a trickle of mail to him, where to anyone else it’s a torrent.”
The Post Office's close relationship - both eBay and USPS call it a "synergy" - with eBay has actually resulted in changes and innovations in postal packaging and shipping.
That synergy has given rise to some innovations for both the Postal Service and eBay. Consider the routine annoyance of going to the local post office and waiting in line to have a package weighed. Enter the $8.10 flat-rate box, introduced in late 2004 and big enough to hold five hardcover books, as well as an assortment of services for shippers on the Postal Service’s Web site.