The Web and Your Career Prospects

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Internet, which includes the World Wide Web, is steadily changing
the way that Americans buy and sell things. It will seriously alter
the retail markets within five years. It is today changing the way
that young people find jobs. You had better adjust your thinking
to the Internet if you intend to stay in the labor market at anything
like your present salary. I will cover this later in this report.

One organization that has been unable to adjust to the new conditions
is the United States Postal Service. Unlike the U.S.P.S., you don’t
have a government subsidy.


We are all abandoning snail mail. The Postal Service is slowly losing
the cream that has sustained its revenues: 1st-class postage.

The Postal Service estimates that, beginning this fiscal year, which
began on October 1, it will carry 2.5% less mail each year until
2008. This
is the official estimate.
(See footnote 2.)

year’s rate hike will likely speed up the rate of decline.

One big factor in the switch away from 1st-class mail is the steady
increase in on-line banking. An October
14, 2002 article in Time reported the following

In 1995
consumers wrote 49.5 billion checks. By 2000 that number had dropped
14% to 42.5 billion. Meanwhile, online bill payment is now used
by some 12 million households, up from 10 million in 2001.

What’s driving
the shift? Over the past year, electronic payment got a boost
when the anthrax attacks elevated fear of using the mail, says
Bill Nelson of the Electronic Payments Association. The hike in
postal rates also hurt snail mail.

But the
biggest factor is that consumers have caught on to the convenience
of being able to check their balance 24/7 and see exactly when
checks clear. The time savings is also a boon, says Javelin Strategy
analyst James Van Dyke. Typically, it takes an American household
about two hours to pay its 10 to 12 bills each month, according
to Van Dyke’s research. Automating everything takes about two
hours to set up, but after that, each month’s bills can be paid
in about 15 minutes. Van Dyke sees people who start out paying
a couple of bills electronically and then add one or two a month
until they’re fully automated. “It’s a good kind of quicksand,”
he says. “The more bills you pay, the more you want to pay.”

The Postal Service is being left with government-subsidized mail
(non-profit organizations, magazines, newspapers), bulk mail, and
bits and pieces. This is one reason — though not the main one
(yet) — why, in an age of “deflation” (ha!), postal rates keep
going up. UPS, FedEx and e-mail are steadily eroding the Postal
Service’s monopoly, a government monopoly extending back culturally
to medieval China, and probably classical Greece.

I built my career on junk mail, yet I no longer look at direct-mail
solicitations that come in an envelope. My wife reads the catalogues.
I don’t.

What about you? Do you pay much attention to traditional mailbox
junk mail? Or is your time spent reading things on-line?

The decline of paper-based newsletters is killing the industry by
shrinking its base. Any newsletter writer or publisher who is not
actively making the transition from paper to digits — “from
atoms to electrons” — is doomed.

Yet, ironically, readers regard paper newsletters as worth paying
for, but not e-mail letters. Twenty years ago, if a publisher had
been able to offer instant delivery mail to investors, he could
have charged a premium. “Get information earlier than your competitors.”
That was what initially allowed Reuters to create his huge communications
business two centuries ago: carrier pigeons that delivered stock
prices in distant stock markets. Today, instant information is regarded
as not worth a subscription fee, but information delivered by second-class
mail is worth paying for. Go figure.

This is true of gray heads. It is not true of people under 30. For
them, paper-based newsletters are archaic.

Meanwhile, e-mail is turning us all into McLetter writers. I used
to write real letters: several hundred a year. Now I write fewer
that two dozen. But I probably write 5,000 e-mails, 99% of which
can safely be blipped as soon as the readers read them.

Future historians will find that collections of serious letters
end after 1996. The treasure trove of letters that historians have
used for two centuries will cease. The wonders of carbon paper copies
will be replaced by . . . nothing. When a hard disk goes down, it
takes the historical record with it. Hard disks go down all the
time. How many e-mail letters to you and your replies have you printed
out and filed away?

The Web is changing everything. It’s Gutenberg, Marconi, Edison,
and Farnsworth wrapped into one cheap package. (If you have never
heard of Philo Farnsworth, look him up. He is the second most unknown
world-changing inventor of all time. Number one is Tim Berners-Lee.)


There is still one major advantage of physical 1st-class mail: it
usually gets through. E-mail has a horrendous non-delivery rate.

I write a Christian economics newsletter. I have written it for
20 years. I now send it out by e-mail. I have a non-delivery rate
of at least 5%, and usually 10%. Sometimes it goes over 11%. It’s
cheap to send: $29/month for up to five long letters to as many
as 3,000 people. It goes to $39 from 3,000 to 10,000. But I never
know what gets through. My wife is on the list. Last Saturday, she
received her letter in many months. She had not seen one for six
months. Yet nothing had changed at her end, supposedly. You can
back issues of my letter here

can subscribe by clicking
on this link
and then clicking SEND. (I never ask for money.
It costs $29/month to maintain the list and do the mailings. I love
to write. Call it Soapbox Fever.)

Why doesn’t e-mail get delivered? The main reason, I am told by
my mailing service, is that the free, large mailbox services fill
up. So, mail is sent back to the sender’s e-mailing service, which
tries again several times. Then it quits trying.

Is this the main reason? I don’t know. I do know that I use a normal
local internet service provider, and I get a lot of mail. I don’t
use a mail box service like Hotmail. I get an on-line e-malbox with
my ISP service, so that I can access my mail if I’m on the road.

Another reason: people switch service providers and do not send
a change-of-address. This number is large: 1% per mailing. My
free economics advisory newsletter
goes out twice a week, or
104 times a year. It has an attrition rate of 20% per year.

A mailing list is capital. I lose 20% per annum just from changes
in address. That is a large loss, I assure you. But cheap postage
and no printing costs make up for it.

I personally use a forwarding service, Bigfoot. It used to
be free. It still is, but only for 25 letters a day. Spam can keep
“real mail” from being delivered. They charge $9/quarter for a premium
service. It forwards 150/day. That, so far, is sufficient.

Here is the advantage of Bigfoot. I can switch the address forwarded
in 60 seconds. If I get a new internet service provider, it doesn’t
matter for my e-mail. I don’t have to tell everyone about my new
address. I will keep that address for life. At $36 a year, that’s
a good deal for me. But I live on the Internet.

I have hesitated to tell anyone about this service for years. Why?
Because it used to be free. Web companies that deliver free services
tend to shut down overnight without warning. If I had all of my
subscribers on Bigfoot, and it went bankrupt, so would my newsletter.
Now that they charge $9, I think this risk is lower.

Here is my advice. Sign up for the free Bigfoot service. See if
you like it. Don’t use it for your friends, whom you contact regularly
anyway. Use it for a dozen newsletters. You want to receive them,
but you’re not in constant communication with them. This way, you
can switch your ISP, and all you have to do is go to Bigfoot and
redirect your mail to your new address. That takes 60 seconds.

If you like Bigfoot’s service, sign up for $9/quarter on your credit
card and get the 150/day service.

This way, you will have to send out only one more change-of-address

Of course, your existing e-mail address will still work. By signing
up for Bigfoot, you’re only testing the forwarding service. All
of your regular mail will come to your existing mailbox. Only those
letters to which you send a change-of-address notification will
go to Bigfoot.

Test Bigfoot. Then, if you decide to make a switch a new ISP, you
can sign up for the $9 bigfoot service. You will have to inform
everyone of the change anyway. Then set your new ISP’s e-mail configuration
to put in the return address. Here’s where to sign


For important mail, businesses still use a printed format. For attracting
new customers, printed mail is rapidly becoming obsolete, except
for catalogues. The advertising world is changing. Your business
had better be working hard to make the transition.

Printed mail still works for reaching corporate customers. There,
the secretary is the barrier. She identifies junk mail and tosses
it out.

So, printed mail is becoming a realm for the Big Boys. For decades,
it was where the little guy could compete. He could write an ad,
rent lists, mail a few test letters, and see what happened. He could
roll out more mail if the test worked.

It can still work. It’s not dead yet. But it’s changing. Specialized
printed magazines still are popular. You can rent their lists. But
printed newsletters are going the way of all flesh. The universe
of rentable names is shrinking. That affects me directly.

You’re not interested in my problems. You’re interested in your
problems. If you are still employed, your problems begin with your
employer’s efforts. If you want to start a small business, you will
face a very different market for getting out your message.

So far, there are no clear-cut working models of what to do on the
Internet to generate business. There are a lot of models that have
worked for certain products or for people with supreme marketing
skills. But this much is clear: if you’re not on the Web, you are
going to lose out. A business that pretends that it is “on the Web”
with a passive version of a Yellow Pages ad is fooling itself. (For
that matter, hardly anyone knows how to create a cost-effective
Yellow Pages ad.)

There is no question that the Web offers tremendous opportunities
for people with marketing skills. But the skills that work on the
Web tend to be verbal rather than graphic. So, mainline advertising
agencies aren’t interested in the Web, except for big clients. This
is another reason why the little guy can compete on the Web. It’s
getting tougher, but it can be done.

In the strategy that I developed six years ago, I combined print
ads, Web pages, and e-mail. It has worked for me. But I’m a writer.
It works best for people who can write effective motivational ad

Not many people have this training or know where to get it. Copywriting
skills, like all skills, are not evenly dispersed in the economy.
That’s why what I’m about to tell you could provide you with a career
edge that will last your whole career. For most of you, it won’t.
You are already overloaded with information. But for a few of you,
this will be your turning point — all in a cheap e-mail report.

That’s why I love e-mail! (When it gets delivered.)


You can go to your local library and get good introductory materials.
You can order through interlibrary loan classics. My favorite is
Victor O. Schwab’s How
to Write a Good Advertisement
. Use it to write your job

(Note: if you use an on-line job-search service such as,
include a click & send e-mail address to an autoresponder that will
instantly send out your full, hard-sell rsum. Example: “”
Most Web hosting sites offer free autoresponders. A site costs maybe
$7 a month. You don’t even need a visible Web page, although you
ought to have one. You do need a domain address. The cheapest way
to get one is at

classic book is on the Web free of charge: Claude Hopkins’ Scientific

I like books by Jeffrey Lant. They are sold on Amazon. In writing
your rsum, The
Unabashed Self-Promoter’s Guide
is the second step after
reading Schwab’s book. Then there are these: (1) No
More Cold Calls
, (2) Cash
and (3) Money
Making Marketing
. I’ve read them all, years ago.

You may think, “I don’t need something like that. My job is secure.
My retirement is secure.” Then again, you may not. Millions of Americans
did think such things as recently as late 2000. But they are learning
their lessons, painfully. There is no security in this job market.
It is getting tougher to make a good living. Retirement is out of
the question for most Americans. They just don’t know it yet.

What I’m telling you here, few people will ever hear about. Even
among my readers, few will bother to click through and print out
Claude Hopkins’ book, despite what I say. I wish this were not true,
but I know it is. The book is free for the asking, yet most people
will not ask. That’s because an intellectual awareness of what’s
coming economically is not the same as an emotional awareness. Emotion
is what motivates most people to action, especially action that
is out of their comfort zones.


The mark of a business that is going to contract or die is the attitude
of the owner, who thinks, “I’ll do well despite the change in my
market.” If you want to view a graphic description of the results
of this attitude, take a three-day drive across Route 66. Hardly
anyone is getting his kicks there now. Interstate 40 has replaced
it. What was once the most famous cross-country highway in America
— America’s Highway — is today a little-used road with
the rotting corpses of travel-related businesses along its side.
If you’re short of travel time, click

Your career is not immune from changes in the marketing of goods
and services. You cannot safely coast. You cannot safely rely on
the good will of existing customers. Price competition is with us.
The Web is the greatest engine of price competition in marketing
history. If you ignore it, you’re like the frog in the pot of water
on the stove. The heat will kill you, but not all at once.

There are ways around this. I have mentioned some books and strategies
that can help you. But knowing about them is not the same as adopting

But be ye
doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like
unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth
himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner
of man he was (James 1:22-24).

15, 2002

North is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
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