As loophole allows end to some Saturday USPS deliveries, magazines explore alternate options

American publishers are scrambling to establish alternate delivery options with the US Postal Service expected to halt Saturday magazine deliveries, beginning in August. Congress’ vote last Thursday for the organization to continue six-day service left latitude to scale down Saturday operations to exclude first-class mail, direct mail and magazines.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 27, 2013

This change will mean a major shift for many publications: Some have a “very definite strategy to reach people on the weekend” for a lean-back experience, as The Week’s president Steven Kotok explained to Ad Age.

Indeed, about 30 percent of National Newspaper Association members have Saturday-specific editions, so the group has fought previous propositions to end Saturday delivery, according to MediaPost.

The Economist Group’s Managing Editor Paul Rossi noted a direct correlation between maintaining subscribers and timely delivery. About 60 percent of subscribers receive The Economist by Saturday, he told Ad Age.

In light of the announcement, Bloomberg Businessweek is expanding its non-postal delivery system into 15 new markets beginning in July, Poynter reported this week. The USPS alternative, launched in 2010 as a partnership with Gannett’s newspaper delivery service, now accounts for a quarter of Businessweek deliveries, said Bernie Schraml, department head of manufacturing. Those who subscribe both to Businessweek and a Gannett newspaper will receive a polybag-bound bundle on their porches, and Businessweek-only subscribers will find the magazine on their doorsteps.

“We’re a newsweekly,” Schraml told Ad Age. “The news is fresh, and we want to get it to subscribers as soon as we can.”

Publishers such as Michigan’s Cadillac News Chris Huckle are considering private delivery options, and while these options may be cheaper than USPS, he noted that they’re generally a hassle. Some subscribers aren’t happy with alternate options, as Rossi learned after trying newspaper delivery on 25,000 Virginian Economist subscribers last year.

“It gets treated like a newspaper, thrown on the lawn because you don’t have access to the mailbox,” he told Ad Age. “You’re subject to sprinkler systems and urinating dogs. You’re really down to the skill and efficiency of the individual delivery person.”

The obvious solution, mailing publications earlier in the week, isn’t so simple. Doing so would not only change production schedules but also coverage. Kotok said The Week currently reaches 90 percent of subscribers by Saturday, and in order to ensure Friday delivery the magazine would close on Tuesday nights — leading to less comprehensive and up-to-date coverage. The alternative, shifting delivery to Monday, would eliminate the weekly capstone experience the magazine currently offers, Poynter reported.

TIME become a dedicated weekend read four years ago, according to Ad Age. While TIME subscribers can access issues before Friday or Saturday delivery via the publication’s website and apps, a spokesperson told Poynter the magazine is making preparations to ensure continued “timely delivery.”

“If the postal schedule changes, we will explore all options to maintain pre-weekend delivery,” a TIME staffer told Ad Age.

Ad Age reported that some weekly magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Newsweek will likely be unaffected by the change, as they are generally delivered during the week. Other publications including Star and OK seem unconcerned about the end to Saturday mail: Dave Leckey, executive vice president for consumer marketing of American Media, said the production schedules of these magazines include enough “excess time” to shift to earlier mailing without affecting many of their subscribers, about half of which receive their magazines on Saturday.

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