Postal service industry leaders gather to discuss the future of snail mail

A U.S. Postal Service mail carrier delivers mail to homes in Miami, Fla.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: It's no secret the U.S. Postal Service is having all kinds of money trouble. Competition from electronic mail and from other parcel delivery firms has put the post office in peril. Today, industry leaders are gathering to help figure out its future.

Sally Herships reports.


SALLY HERSHIPS: Phil Herr keeps tabs on the Postal Service's financial condition for the Government Accountability Office. And he sums things up this way.

PHILL HERR: There's less, quote, unquote, money in the mail.

More and more people are paying bills online. And with the recession advertisers are sending fewer mailers. But it's hard for the Postal Service to lower costs. There may be less mail but it still has to be delivered.

HERR: It's very costly to go to 131 million addresses six days a week.

So industry leader are holding a conference, Postal Vision 2020, to brainstorm the service's future.

JOHN CALLAN: Clearly it's going to have to do something different. Because it won't be delivering mail the way it is today in ten years.

John Callan is managing director of industry consultant Ursa Major -- the company running the conference. Google's Vice President Vint Cerf is giving the keynote speech. And start ups, like online bill-pay service Manilla, will also be there. With all this Silicon Valley presence you might wonder if hungry tech companies have designs on the mail business. But John Callan says no. They're really there to help the postal service find a new approach.

CALLAN: These kinds of companies think differently. They think about open platforms, collaboration and they encourage team work.

And teamwork may be one solution. The GAO's Phil Herr says many postal services in Europe are working with the private sector. They're moving into grocery stores and pharmacies. And closing expensive stand alone post offices. In the meantime the U.S. Postal Service says it expects to lose over $8 billion this year.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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