Friday, 27 July 2007

Too Many Stamps? Not For Royal Mail's Needs

The other day, Roy wrote about the petition urging Royal Mail to issue fewer stamps. The petition was created by dealer Tony Buckingham.

It is a valiant effort. It is doomed to failure.

To see why, look at Royal Mail's situation. Royal Mail is not part of the government. It no longer has a monopoly; it must compete with other organizations that do not have a universal service obligation. Its prices and services are controlled. Its labor unions are restive. And, perhaps most importantly, its primary function is being made obsolete by the internet, cell phones, and other new technologies.

As a result, Royal Mail's need for revenue in this environment is more critical than ever before. One way that it is meeting that need is with an aggressive stamp issuing policy.

Let's look back at the 1960s. The Post Office was a branch of the government. It was the only organization that could carry mail, and as such, its stamps represented the country.

The subjects and designs of postage stamps were important. The Queen was actively involved in her role of approving stamp designs. Members of Parliament took notice of stamps and complained if they didn't like the designs.

Postmaster General Tony Benn (1964-66) wanted improve Britain's image at home and overseas by issuing better stamps. Benn frankly admitted that another of his motivations was to increase postal revenues, but he wanted to do that by having better designs at least as much as by issuing more stamps.

He believed that better stamp designs would encourage more people to become collectors and thereby, over time, create more revenue.

The Post Office (and later its successor, Royal Mail) found other ways to serve collectors. The Philatelic Bureau was created to supply stamps by mail, and the British Philatelic Bulletin was published to inform collectors about what stamps were available, among other things.

Royal Mail continued to invest in increasing the number of stamp collectors. The Stamp Bug Club (remember it?) was created to encourage children to collect stamps. Sponsorship of stamp shows served to encourage adults as well as children to collect stamps.

Now its 2007. The world has changed. The present is very difficult, and the future is cloudy. Royal Mail no longer has the time or patience to invest now to create collectors in the future. Royal Mail may not exist in 30 years, or even 10. There's little else to do but optimize the present and let the future take care of itself.

Thus, the barrage of stamp issues aimed, not at long term collectors, but at anyone who will buy today, and buy a lot. So we have The Beatles and Harry Potter and Bond, James Bond. And we have stamps, souvenir sheets, Smilers, prestige booklets, medal covers, presentation packs, commemorative documents, stamp cards, commemorative medallions, first day covers, press sheets and anything else Royal Mail can think of.

If, as a result of the current policy, a thousand long-term collectors give up buying new issues, so what? There are ten thousand (actually many more) Beatlemaniacs who will buy stamps instead. And Harry Potter fans. And James Bond fans.

It doesn't matter if those are the same fans or different fans. It doesn't matter (not much, anyway) if the people who bought the Beatles stamps come back to buy Harry Potter. It only matters that enough people buy each new issue, and all the variations, to generate revenue.

A petition signed by a few hundred people, even a few thousand, may get a polite response, but it will have no effect beyond that.

I, too, wish Royal Mail would go back to a more restrained stamp issuing policy. It's not going to happen. At least not soon.

More on this later. Your comments, please.

--Larry

1 comment:

Martin said...

I agree with you and many others about too many stamps. The plethora of stamp releases have now made me select items I want to collect, rather than collect everything that the Royal Mail produce. I no longer buy commemoratives unless they are likely to increase in value eg Bond, Potter, The Beatles and then only in presentation packs which seem to hold their value more. I collect Minisheets, booklets, also prestige booklets. I also have a healthy interest in Machins. Apart from the odd smiler sheet to get a rare single that's about it. So Royal Mail's loss as I only spend a fraction of what I used to spend. At one time I used to get a set of stamps, a presentation pack an FDC and send off Stamp cards with stamps on for first day issue stamp but not any more.