Editorial: Writing is on the wall for letters

Last updated 13:00 30/01/2013

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OPINION: It's unlikely you will have rushed to the letter box lately.

Bills and statements are not a great drawcard, and even they are increasingly moving online.

Birthday and Christmas cards still find their way to the mailbox - e-cards lack the personal touch - but it's rare to find a real letter, especially in actual handwriting.

They are fast becoming a quaint relic, in the same way as cassette tapes and cameras with film.

It's an inevitable byproduct of the internet-driven shift in the way we communicate. People lack the time or the will to write a letter that will reach its destination in a few days when you can instantly email, text, tweet, post on Facebook or use any number of social media sites to get in touch.

Communication between customers and businesses has also increasingly migrated online.

In common with other industries forced to adapt to such fundamental change, NZ Post is having to make some hard decisions about its future.

Yesterday's announcement that it is seeking Government approval to move to a three-day a week postal delivery service is one of those decisions.

Postal volumes are in sharp decline and are forecast to keep falling. Within five years mail volumes are forecast to fall to 600 million items annually. It still sounds like a lot, but it is half the mail volume in 2002.

Faced with such unpalatable options as incurring losses or seeking government subsidies for its letters business, NZ Post is planning to cut the costs of delivering mail.

It wants the flexibility to move to a three-day service within the next year or so.

To do so it needs to change minimum service requirements in its agreement with the Government. The public will have six weeks to comment, but judging by initial reactions there will not be a huge surprise or backlash.

It's hard to fault the state-owned enterprise's move, faced with the certainty of a business in decline. As chief executive Brian Roche put it: "We cannot stand still and simply hope the problems will go away."

He also notes the irony that submissions will be received largely by email, rather than letter.

For many a couple of days between deliveries will not be a problem. The internet or courier services offer faster options for time-sensitive communications.

But there are those who will be more affected. Farmers and other rural delivery customers rely on regular post and often don't have access to fast broadband to take advantage of the digital revolution.

But even the powerful Federated Farmers lobby accepts the current rural delivery service is uneconomic and has to change.

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NZ Post says it won't make rural customers "second class citizens" and will work with rural contractors, who deliver other products besides mail, on potential solutions. Others affected by the proposed move are posties, who face job losses, and the elderly who have not embraced the online world.

They join other casualties of a revolution that shows no signs of slowing.

- The Nelson Mail

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