Stamp collectors are funny. They are concerned with art, history, culture and all that entails: and they expect it all to appear on little pieces of paper, whose true job is not to be a history lesson, a work of art or the tiny bit of flash fiction. Because they forget that a stamp's duty is to carry mail from one place to another.
Postal services around the world that are in financial trouble are going to be saved by neither stamp collectors nor post office customers. Some international postal systems have diversified, offering services like bill paying, the sale of phone cards, and other consumer friendly services.
Stamps Pushed Out By Technology
The future? At first blush one could imagine QR codes used on stamps. (Printed internet shipping labels are bar coded already, of course.) Program the service with your device, print out the QR stamp and your mail is on its way. Of course this begs the question that if you can do that with your device, why not do whatever you're doing (bill paying, sending a letter /email, etc.) directly on the Internet.
No, stamp collectors aren't spending in numbers large enough to save postal services. In the U.S. if they were there wouldn't be quite as many stamps left over unsold from 2009-10 as outlined by the Inspector General in his July 23 2012 report on overproduction of stamps. That overproduction was by more than 30 percent of what was needed, representing a waste of over $1M, is certainly sobering.
Collectors Seen Changing Habits
Why the postal service doesn't go the way of other countries and produce precanceled stamps is probably a case of tradition. Long-time collectors damn precanceled stamps, citing the fact that stamps are supposed to be used in the mails and those that clearly never will be are a blight on the collecting world. But when there is an overproduction, couldn't precancels, which could even be put in inexpensive packets for new collectors, help to take up some of the financial slack for the USPS?
The negative view of precancels is changing, as countries like China produce precancels for collectors who actually prefer the neatness of the cancel over the messiness that can occur in actual mail cancels. Precancels are also much cheaper than mint stamps that can still be used to get mail delivered. And now more than ever before there are collectors who want nothing to do with canceled stamps, preferring a clean mint example of their postal paper collectibles.
And as stamps are used less and less on mail postal services must look for rationalizations to even continue releasing these items, which like physical books vs. ebooks have become cumbersome reflections of the days before the benefits of technology became available. Do stamps only exist to make sure that the labels we use to send our mail are more interesting than a bar code, while being collectible?
A Good Stamp Tradition?
Postal services would do well to go as much as possible with putting living people on stamps, like England did for their gold medal winners during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Considering that collectors will collect fewer and fewer items of postal history, event covers with stamps picturing living people could be the shot in the arm needed to sell more stamps. While the appeal of athletes on Olympics event covers is obvious there is also great potential in the world of pop culture, entertainment, music, literature, education, etc.
The argument that living people shouldn't appear on stamps and event covers because they may turn out to have something shady in their past, or criminal in their future, is specious. Every four years we have presidential inauguration covers that have an image of the president on everything but the stamp. And after all, if the USPS won't put a picture of the president on a stamp are they saying they don't trust him or question his character? Of course not. And yet only the clean and approved deceased can continue to appear on our stamps.
What it comes down to is stamp collecting is a quiet hobby, where people go to escape the tumult of the world. Imagine a George Clooney stamp released to coincide with the opening of his latest movie. It could be a movie premier and a first day of issue ceremony all-in-one. For basic old-school stamp collectors that is the stuff of nightmares.