It’s the economy stupid


Why is the post not like it used to be?

Looking back over the years always brings amusement and we always think our own perspective to be unique. In the UK it is easy to gripe about how the Royal Mail isn’t as good as it used to be; in the 70s we had two posts per day (and second class generally meant second post), cancellation of the Sunday delivery was a huge event and it was common to get the post delivered before leaving for school, allowing for birthday cards to be opened. Nowadays we get a delivery most days (though it seems not every day), first class might arrive the next day and prices of stamps seem exorbitant.

Curiously if one reads the Victorian novel then for a penny it was quite common for the main character to receive a letter from London at breakfast, send a reply and then have a further reply arrive before tea! This may be somewhat exaggerated but clearly a better service than one got in the 70s!

Businesses are systems

Now the Royal Mail is a complex system, it takes letters and other stuff, collects them from pillar boxes, sorts them in large sorting offices then distributes back out for delivery by people. Volumes are high (though competition means that there are alternatives) and it is the deliverer of last resort, i.e. will deliver to a remote Scottish isle for the same price as a letter sent down the road.

It’s cost base provides the economic backdrop we need – for example a penny to a Victorian is a larger sum than (in general) 46p is to people today. Wages are also substantially higher – this means it is not worth paying delivery staff to pound the streets twice a day, at weekends and early in the morning. The economics of revenue over the volume don’t allow for that class of service.

There is also a capacity point; if you build a service, at low volume the system can readily process a letter and forward it round the circle. Letters were also often sent via the Post Office which had good links to the rail services (and how they shaped Victorian Britain).

We get the service we want to pay for, with all it means in terms of the withdrawal of the post office in the small community or limited opening.

The future?

There is competition, electronic alternatives by the dozen. When junk mail ceases to be effective (and we are a long way off) and we all move to e-Birthday cards and Amazon tokens sent by email volumes will declines. Businesses like surety and pay someone else who can guarantee delivery times and that staff will not strike. The day will come when the Royal Mail ceases to be the main channel for delivery for domestic consumers.

As to relatives in the Highlands and Islands, I suspect the friendly postman will become something of an event to cherish.

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About Tony Jones
Big Finish writer, reviewer and blogger, I'm interested in science fiction and Doctor Who. I review for CultBox, The Doctor Who Companion and others. I am also Audio Drama editor for Starburst Magazine, and write the occasional piece for Vortex, the BSFA critical magazine.

2 Responses to It’s the economy stupid

  1. Paul says:

    Post on a Sunday? When I were a lad we had to lick road clean etc.

    Like

    • HelmStone says:

      Date of posting isn’t necessarily date of writing!

      Like

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