Veteran readers of WORLD from its earliest years came to expect me to devote this space, at least once and maybe twice every year, to a blast at what I sometimes called the U.S. Postal Non-Service. For few frustrations in life were as maddening as to work feverishly to produce timely coverage of the week's news, only to have our magazine languish for days in the dark corners of a postal warehouse or substation.
Most irritating of all were complaints from readers that two issues of WORLD had just arrived in the same mail. "If that's the best you can do," readers responded with understandable annoyance, "just cancel my subscription."
Delays we could understand. But week-long delays? So we occasionally beat up pretty vociferously on the people who staff the USPS. And then I remember how a couple of those USPS workers, who were themselves WORLD subscribers, wrote me to say how unfair my editorial abuse was-and they too canceled their subscriptions.
Here I want to report to you that things have improved since then. A number of you get WORLD every week on a sufficiently dependable delivery schedule so that only 9 percent of our readers in a recent survey said they get their issues late. That's by no means good enough, and certainly not good enough for that 9 percent.
Indeed, you readers are more forgiving of the Postal Service than they are of themselves. By their standards, most WORLD readers should receive their magazines on the Tuesday or Wednesday prior to the date of the issue on the magazine's cover. The USPS's own tracking service says that those targets are achieved less than 60 percent of the time!
Readers are often intrigued to know the schedule by which WORLD is produced each week: The final flurry of editorial activity takes place every Wednesday and Thursday; late-breaking news stories fall into place, the last headlines are written, final proofs are read, and the cover photography or illustration gets fine-tuned. By 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, digital files of all the pages-after having been electronically bounced back and forth between editorial offices in St. Louis and graphic designers in Asheville, N.C.-are forwarded over high-speed data lines to the printer in Cincinnati. By late in the evening, the huge multi-color computer-controlled presses are ready to roll. Through the wee morning hours, more than 130,000 copies of WORLD stream down the conveyors ready to be stapled, trimmed, and addressed. By Friday afternoon almost all those magazines are in the mail stream, headed your way.
And then, after all that huffing and puffing to bring you a timely magazine, an almost moribund process takes over. For example, my home is just six hours down the interstate from the Cincinnati printer. But the USPS usually takes five days to get my copy of WORLD down that six-hour stretch of highway and to my home. The Pony Express of 1850 could literally have out-performed the modern postal enterprise.
But, of course, there is no modern alternative to the USPS for magazine publishers. On the same Thursday evening when the press gets ready to roll, you can go to worldmag.com and see what's in the new issue, but only the text and without the award-winning design. For that, you have to wait until the middle of the next week-or, if you live on the West Coast, the end of the next week.
Now we want to change all that. But we need your help.
Our main objective over the next few weeks is not to sit as the critics of the USPS, but simply to become their partners and help them live up to their own standards. They say WORLD should be in the hands of its subscribers no more than four days after entering the mail stream, or maybe five days for the most distant parts of the continental 48 states. We want to help them achieve those goals.
To do that, we need to hear with very specific reports from readers who are receiving less than satisfactory service. If you live east of the Mississippi River and receive WORLD regularly after the Tuesday prior to the date on the cover, the USPS is letting you down-by its own standard. If you are west of the Mississippi and get it later than Wednesday prior to the date on the cover, you too are missing out on even standard service.
So we'd like you to report back to us on your own delivery of WORLD. And we've tried to make it easy to do that. Just go (anytime after Wednesday, Sept. 17) to www.worldmagsurvey.com on the Internet and fill in the simple instructions there. Then we'll give that information to experts (both inside and outside the USPS) who assure us they can improve things. Whether those folks are right or wrong, we promise to keep you posted about the effort to deliver WORLD to you on time, with predictable regularity.