The Guelph Mercury

January 15, 2002 Tuesday Final Edition

Stamp prices rise amid talk of snail mail's demise

Canada Post increased the cost of sending letters Monday with a hike in stamp prices as observers continued to sound a death knell for so-called "snail mail."

The cost of domestic mail rose by a penny to 48 cents, letters to the United States now cost an extra nickel at 65 cents, and mailing overseas will set you back $1.25, up from $1.05.

The added cost will likely not help a postal service that observers say is already under siege by competition from newer, faster technologies such as e-mail.

Some computer-savvy Canadians say they prefer to avoid the post office when connecting with faraway friends.

"I don't have a lot of mail. Mostly I do everything electronic," said Sandra Ramlakhan, 46, who says she sends regular mail only about three or four times a year. "It's part of my lifestyle."

Ramlakhan said she prefers using the telephone and e-mail to keep in touch with her daughter in Australia and friends in Trinidad.

She's not alone.

The advent of e-mail, pagers and faxes has connected Canadians like never before, and postal officials admit snail mail appears headed for a steady decline.

An anthrax scare in U.S. post offices last fall also left many wary of mailing and opening letters.

Canada Post spokesman John Caines said mail volume has dropped slightly over the past five years, falling by about one to two per cent each year.

It's not quite the erosion a Canada Post executive predicted two years ago, when he warned the proliferation of e-mail would cause earnings to drop $200 million by 2004.

Overall mail use has actually increased slightly over the same period, benefiting from strong use by businesses and advertisers.

"The product is still one people rely on for the security of the mail, for documents that are important and letters that are important," Caines said.

"People want to make sure they get there."

Still, asking people to pay more for a service pitted against increasingly faster, more convenient options can't help the Crown corporation's bottom line, says author and communications expert Charles Meadow.

"Every day the electronic world catches up and the post office raises their prices. It is a self-defeating business and they'll go out someday," said Meadow, a retired University of Toronto professor.

"They just go too slow and they charge too much."

Internet use has exploded in recent years, he said, citing figures that show global use rising exponentially to more than 4.5 trillion messages sent in 1999 from 10 billion messages in 1986.

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