Look no farther than the week’s transport news to get an idea of what kind of muddle we’re in.
My Forever stamp is getting to look more and more like the best thing in my portfolio as the Post Office moves toward 44-cent stamps, and oh, incidentally, says that it thinks it can no longer afford Saturday delivery. Which, of course, prompts a few cries and queries about the place of the USPS in the country today.
Should we further subsidize mail delivery, all to serve the couple-of-century-old notion that universal mail delivery (read delivery to every nook and cranny of the far-flung nation) is in the basic creed of a nation that believes in a level playing field.
On a parallel track, we’ve got a new $7.2 billion allotment of federal debt to bring broadband access to the farther reaches of the nation. Why? To level the playing field, to make sure that ruralites have the same opportunities for communication, education and business endeavor as us urbanites.
Aren’t we seeing the collision between the 18th and 21st centuries here?
In this hybrid, where-the-hell-are-we stage, we are planning on paying for two ways to make sure everyone stays in touch. Both are expensive, but we can bet which one will be needed in 10 years and the other….not so much.
It’s curiously similar to the hybrid tortures endured by newspaper companies. They must keep the pulp-and-ink processing behemoths oiled and delivery trucks gassed up, just to hold on to the Sunday circulars and remaining classifieds. Yet they must invest in online, a clearly superior (timely, environmental, cheaper) to produce news.
It’s no accident that as the Post Office ponders dropping Saturday delivery, newspapers are pondering the same thing, though Monday and Tuesday are easier targets. The key to all this: cut costs while maintaining current revenues while you sprint to the future. That is one sprint the newspaper companies might win. After all, unless USPS can get a piece of the broadband action, what’s its future?
The broadband initiative has one other portent for the news industry.
We’ve seen for more than a decade that the smaller the city/town you live and the farther flung you are from metropolises, the greater the chance you read your local daily or weekly. Lower small-town penetration has meant less circulation loss and less ad revenue loss for weeklies and small dailies.
Should our equivalent of rural electrification succeed over the next several years, the wonder of high-speed news – and paid search advertising – will make new inroads. Sure, the creation of unique, hyperlocal community content will still make a difference, but the second coming of the information superhighway will make a dent in the small-town publishing business.