U.S. Postal Service Can Make Americans Dislike The Simpsons

The Simpsons, the longest-running situation comedy in the history of American television and an international marketing colossus that continues to delight millions of fans, has finally found a way to lose money: Get the United States Postal Service involved. 

Bloomberg's Angela Greiling Keane reports

In a move that wasted $1.2 million in printing costs, the service produced 1 billion of “The Simpsons” stamps and sold 318 million.

The Postal Service inspector general in a report singled out the overproduction of stamps marking the 20th anniversary of the cartoon’s run on News Corp. (NWS)’s Fox network as an example of failing to align stamp production with demand.

“If the Postal Service can’t address a simple matter such as determining how many commemorative stamps to produce, it shows they can’t address the larger problems,” Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said. “Unfortunately, even a small item can create larger problems.”

The Postal Service launched the stamps in 2009, with plenty of hype. (Lisa Simpson buffs can order a framed original Lisa portrait for $50 and a matted giclée print for $25.) 

Is first-class letter postage still 44 cents? U.S. Postal Service

Other stamps that didn't sell out their print runs, Keane reports, featured "the lunar new year, civil rights movement figures, Zion National Park, Supreme Court justices, historic U.S. flags, film director Oscar Micheaux and a Christmas stamp showing an angel with a lute."

The USPS, which posted a $5.2 billion loss for the third quarter, says the poor sales resulted from a decline in demand for fixed-postage stamps due to the popularity of its "forever" stamps. "The inspector general probe," Keane writes, "found no instances during 2009 and 2010 in which there was more demand for commemorative stamps than supply." 

The U.S. Constitution's Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 authorizes Congress to "establish Post Offices and post Roads" — a power that has, as Thomas Jefferson feared, grown into an iron government monopoly on letter delivery as well as "a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress & their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money." The 19th-century libertarian abolitionist Lysander Spooner successfully competed with the federal postal service and forced sharp reductions in postal rates for consumers, but Spooner's American Letter Mail Company was shut down by an 1851 law that empowered the postal service to declare all streets as "post roads" and made private competition effectively impossible.

The decline in demand for most forms of physical mail is revealing the USPS's structural weakness and inefficiency, and postal worker unions have been loudly calling for Congress to deliver billions of taxpayer dollars for continued patronage in the public mail service. That strategy has proved persuasive to vapid, talentless New York Times columnist Gail Collins and to quite a few other media observers, but so far it has not resulted in any real congressional action. 

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  • Proprietist||

    I can't even understand how it's possible to lose money on a tiny sheets of sticker paper that one sells for $10 a sheet. Even if they only sold 1/3rd of their stock, I seriously doubt each sheet of stamps costs $3.33 to produce.

    Only the government...

  • ||

    Behold the power of bureaucracy.

  • Tman||

    STATIST MAN HAS A FINE COLLECTION OF ELVIS STAMPS.

  • Suki||

    +100

  • ||

    I don't think that's an accurate way of looking at it. The amount of money that a Postal Carrier can spend on stamp production is a small fraction of the stamp price, as the price covers all of the labor/capital involved in delivering the piece of mail upon which the stamp is utilized.

  • SugarFree||

    The market for these stamp sets are mostly collectors, who aren't going to mail them. That's why they are a money-maker, supposedly.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Right. And according to this logic, the existence of the "forever" stamp should have no effect on demand for collectibles. Yet they're claiming that's why collectibles are all losing money now.

  • Zeb||

    I can't imagine why anyone would by non-forever stamps unless it were for a collection.

  • ||

    I tend to doubt (without much evidence) that there was really a collector's market for these. With 1 billion printed, they're about as rare as sand at the beach.

  • RBS||

  • SugarFree||

    It's not about creating rarity, it's about people not mailing them for any reason whatsoever. If they sell a sheet of 20, and people don't mail 5, that's ($2.20 - prodcosts) profit for the USPS.

    That's why they don't really go for the small print runs all the time, but sell mass-appeal sets, like The Simpsons, Black History Month, Women's History Month, etc. Any stamp you don't mail is close to pure profit.

  • RBS||

  • Proprietist||

    Of course there are deeper economic labor and shipping costs involved. They're charging factors of ten times the actual cost of production to pay for the cost of mail delivery and operations.

    But the government owns the printers and still supposedly lost money on the "printing costs" from unsold inventory. You can buy booklets full of stickers at Dollar Tree.

  • Drake||

    I know how to sell them all. Make the only choice in post office until they are gone. Why are they wasting money on stupid pictures on stamps?

  • anon||

    I can't even understand how it's possible to lose money on a tiny sheets of sticker paper that one sells for $10 a sheet.

    When's the last time you mailed something via USPS?

    Fuck, I haven't even checked my mailbox in at least a month.

    But yeah, this is what happens when profit is removed from the equation.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    They didn't lose money directly. TFA clearly states it only cost $1.2M to print them. I'm sure they made that back many times over.

    The wastage is 2/3 of that, $800K, in what hasn't been sold. This is pretty much a tempest in a teapot.

    There is a fixed size market for stamps. Only a few collectors buy stamps without the intention of using them. People who bought Simpson stamps did so in lieu of other stamps.

  • John||

    I thought the writers had already made America dislike the Simpsons.

  • anon||

    I just realized the last thing I saw that was simpsons-related was the movie; 5 years ago. Before that it was easily another 5 years.

  • rts||

    *insert standard rant about how The Simpsons have sucked for the last 10 seasons at least*

  • John||

    There is just so many episodes. Even if 60% of the material was good, that still leaves hours and hours and hours of crap.

  • Zeb||

    Fortunately, I haven't watched new episodes for about 10 years, so the Simpsons is still just plain great in my mind.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I have a cunning plan that I will give to the USPS for free: Postage stamps with video. It should be possible given the current state of the art. Charge whatever, but make video stamps, and all will be well with the world again.

  • SugarFree||

    Can I record the video? Because I can think of an exciting new application for the term "junk mail."

  • Pro Libertate||

    Why yes, yes you can. I can't think of a single reason for that not being a good idea. Here, I grant you the franchise.

  • Spoonman.||

    Oh God.

  • SugarFree||

    "Just when you thought it was safe to go to your mailbox."

  • Jerry on the road||

    Ha-ha!

  • Mike M.||

    Dislike the Simpsons? Never, you croquet playing mint muncher!

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Worst commemorative stamp ever.

  • Drake||

    That Jefferson guy makes some really good points.

  • Svoogle||

    Ahm..how's that socialism working out for you, my dear Americans? your postal service is a government agency? Are you fuckin kidding me?

    come to Germany and walk into a branch of the German Postal Service, and you will understand that you have absolutely no right to look down on "Europe" and talk bullshit about socialism..BTW, the German Postal Service is a corporation, run for profit, with the German government owning a large share..oh, and you can type a letter on your computer in Germany and it will be send out as a letter automatically..oh, and they posted a profit of 2.5 billion Euros in 2010..PROFIT, MOTHERFUCKA!!!!!!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Speaking of Germany, my grandmother had a couple complete sheets of Adolf Hitler stamps that my grandfather liberated during WWII. They've disappeared, but I wonder what they'd be worth now?

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Did you ever try mailing a letter with one?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, I assume German stamps wouldn't work in the U.S., but I like the idea.

  • RBS||

    I was going through my granddads things and found a couple of sheets of Hitler's stationary.

  • SugarFree||

    I have some Nazi money and my wife has some Confederate coins.

    Hard times call for hard money.

  • Pro Libertate||

    My mom has a deed issued by a Confederate state. I've been thinking we should use it to cloud someone's title.

  • ||

    Hhmm...that makes me wonder how much my Bill Clinton Air Force One MMs; are worth.

    According to ebay, about $25 a box.

  • RBS||

    Cool story bro.

  • ||

    German Postal Service is a corporation, run for profit, with the German government owning a large share

    So it's fascist/corporatist instead?

  • Svoogle||

    Yes, of course it's fascist, it's Germany after all..you should have learned that i̶n̶ ̶s̶c̶h̶o̶o̶l̶ on the History channel, dude..the Jew slaves in the backrooms is what makes this corporation so profitable

  • ||

    Whatever dude, that sort of private/public co-ownership is fascist/corporatist (which has nothing to do with the Jews/holocaust, that was just the NAZI's particular flavor). I bet they have a government granted monopoly too.

    I'd prefer free market mail instead of either socialist or coporporatist.

  • Svoogle||

    after liberalization, they continued to have a monopoly on letters under 50 grams, which was abolished in 2005 also

  • ||

    They should be applauded for heading in the right direction. Sounds like with a huge headstart from the previous monopoly without support from the government. Why not cut them loose?

  • ||

    a "they can get by" is missing from the second sentence.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Um, socialism *IS* bullshit.

    Mothafucka.

    BTW "socialism" and "profit" are mutually exclusive. Dumbshit.

  • anon||

    oh, and you can type a letter on your computer in Germany and it will be send out as a letter automatically.

    See, that's the kind of innovation the USPS needs. Fuck, UPS should offer this service.

  • fried wylie||

    HewlettPackard is shakin in their boots...

  • The Late P Brooks||

    the poor sales resulted from a decline in demand for fixed-postage stamps due to the popularity of its "forever" stamps.

    It's about time they figured out the "forever" thing. It always bugged the shit out of me that my first class stamps suddenly were insufficient to get a letter to its destination, and I had to go buy a bunch of oddball two or three cent stamps. A stamp is (should be) a pre-paid service contract.

  • Jennifer||

    Why don't they just make all stamps "forever" stamps? I haven't bought any "numbered" stamps since the Forever ones came out; it's not even that I want to lock in a certain price to mail a letter, so much as I want to avoid the gigantic pain in the ass of keeping track of what the current price is, and scrounging around for one- or two-cent stamps to make up the difference.

    Side note: does the PO still sell those annual commemorative stamp albums? I still have a few from when I was a kid; say, the 1980 album came with one unused copy of every decorative stamp issued that year, and sold for maybe a dollar or two more than the face value of the stamps. Maybe people will buy the stamps in album form.

  • cw||

    Why don't they just make all stamps "forever" stamps?

    I assume the incompetence that comes from a giant, sluggish, government-granted monopoly on first class mail is responsible.

  • fried wylie||

    You say incompetent, I say evil. The only thing keeping postal employees from killing us all is teh luls they get imagining people trying to put the exact (or way more) postage on a letter.

  • Ted S.||

    Airmail costs more than the "forever" stamp price, which if I'm not mistaken is for one-ounce first class mail. There's also the second ounce and other such stuff.

  • Phil_EngAmer||

    How much more mismanagement from the USPS do we have to suffer before it significantly alters its business approach. The writing has been on the wall, as net income and volume have mail have steadily declined (http://chi.mg/oBezLD), but it’s clear a lot needs fixing. It may be time for the USPS to embrace private sector business theory. Government regulation is doing it no favors, and unless it can adapt, more layoffs seem to be the only way to account for faulty business model. It’s sad to see such misfortune befall the USPS, but solutions are there if they can embrace innovation.

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