Your newest source for magazine subscriptions? It could be the USPS

It is a peculiar proposal to help save two struggling industries — Columbia Journalism Review reports that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is considering selling magazine subscriptions on its website and in stores through QR codes as part of a plan to bolster excitement around the mailbox.

Documents from the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) in May show that the industry perception is that magazines arriving in mailboxes is one of the few exciting “mail moments” left for postal service customers. So encouraging magazine subscriptions could boost enthusiasm for the struggling postal service, which mainly relies on so-called “junk mail” to stay afloat, materials that aren’t quite as exciting for customers on the receiving end.

The news was first reported by the blog Dead Tree Edition, which raised some important questions about the proposal, including:

  • Would include both print and digital subscriptions?
  • Would it be an unfair use of the postal service’s resources to compete against companies like Amazon or subscription sellers?
  • How would publishers get their magazines into the program?

Neither the USPS or MTAC responded to requests for comment. It’s still just a proposal, but CJR reports some subscription offerings could appear in stores as early as January as part of a preliminary test, and publishers have shown interest in participating:

“The plan is for the Postal Service to install posters with QR codes in post offices around the country. Customers could then scan the code with their phones and subscribe to different magazines. Alternatively, they could just subscribe to magazines online, through

“What periodicals lack in volume, though, they make up for in influence. People want to receive periodicals, so they check their mail and read the spam. If magazines die, then people may not even bother to check their mailboxes. Internally, the Postal Service refers to periodicals as “the anchor in the mailbox.” Clearly, the Postal Service has an interest in making sure that periodicals stay in business and continue to sell print subscriptions.”

There’s no doubt that the promise of the arrival of a print copy of the New Yorker might entice me to the mailbox more often, but that doesn’t mean the USPS is necessarily the best company to sell me that subscription, or that QR codes on in-store posters would be an effective way to do it.

QR codes have tricky adoption issues, and plenty of customers find them confusing or unhelpful. And with 87 percent of magazine and newspaper publishers putting out iPad apps and focusing on the digital future, doing deals with the postal service seems like an odd move. But hey, if the program works, new customers are new customers — and both the postal and magazine industries could use them at the moment.