Weekly newsmagazines, already challenged to stay relevant when news is available around the clock, now have to figure out how to make sure they get in readers’ hands on a timely basis when the Postal Service makes good on its plan to eliminate Saturday delivery.
The change, effective Aug. 5, will particularly impact Time, which changed its delivery date in 2007 for the very purpose of being a weekend read; and titles like The Economist and The Week, whose readers pay a premium in part with the expectation that they’ll get the magazine by the weekend.
As much as 90 percent of The Week’s subscribers get their copies by Saturday, leaving Week president Steven Kotok with the unenviable choice of moving back the magazine’s close day (currently Wednesday) to continue reaching readers before the weekend or shift delivery to early in the week when there’s more competition for readers’ time.
“We’re absolutely designed to be a weekend read,” he said.
It’s not just reader satisfaction that’s at stake when Saturday delivery goes away. “Advertisers pay us for the connection we have with the reader,” Kotok said.
Adding insult to injury, the timing of the change caught the industry off guard, as the Postal Service acted on its own, potentially setting it up for congressional challenge.
Going to five-day delivery "would require substantial operational changes from some weekly magazines that often want delivery on Friday and Saturday so readers can enjoy their content over the weekend," the MPA-The Association of Magazine Media said in a statement. "The move to five-day delivery would require substantial preparation on the part of affected magazines."
Some magazines including The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek have tested home delivery with newspapers in select markets. But as much as postal costs have ballooned in recent years, extending that method to their entire subscriber base would cost even more than postal delivery.
Still, for some, decreasing reliance on the postal service seems preferable to changing the close date. Businessweek now uses newspapers to deliver to subscribers in 20 markets and will look at expanding that program faster in light of the postal service change, according to Bernie Schraml, who heads up manufacturing and distribution for the magazine. Businessweek has also increased the number of production facilities it uses, reducing delivery time. About one-fourth of subscribers get their copies on Saturday.
Time didn’t give details about how it would react to the delivery change, but it has been promoting the ability for people to read its content online.
“Time has been anticipating this possibility for awhile and we are preparing plans to continue timely delivery of the magazine to our subscribers. With Time’s All Access program, subscribers can already get magazine content (and more) on tablet and on Time.com as early as each Thursday.”
The change will also be hard on newspapers, particularly small dailies and weeklies, which have moved away from costly hand delivery in favor of the mail over the years. While dissatisfaction with postal delivery has forced some to move back to carriers, many still rely on the post office for delivery on Saturday, an important day in terms of reader engagement and getting circulars in the hands of people when they have time to go shopping.
"Many newspapers have moved out of mail delivery because of poor service," said Paul Boyle, svp for public policy for the Newspaper Association of America. "But those who stay are likely to see financial harm as a result."
And there's no guarantee that delivery snags will end there, as squeezing six days of delivery into five could create its own problems.
"I think there’s a general concern that there’s so much volume that there could be disruption in mail service early in the week," Boyle said. "There could be fallout for other days.”