One problem is the Web site itself, which feels heavy, slow and technical. There’s no way to label or annotate your mail, to organize it or even to search it. An “Archive” button files the scanned image, but it all winds up in one giant folder; you can’t organize it within that folder. Occasionally, the “From” column identifies the sender’s actual name and address, but usually, it just says “unknown,” even if the return address was laser-printed.
Note, too, that mail sent to your Earth Class mailbox takes longer to reach you — up to a week — since it has to be reshipped to the scanning plant in Oregon. (An East Coast branch is supposed to open later this year.)
Earth Class Mail is not for those on a budget, and the price plan makes cellphone plans look like a model of simplicity. You’re expected to know in advance how much mail you’re going to get.
Some examples: for $10 a month, paid a year in advance, you’re entitled to receive 35 pieces of mail each month, and to have 50 of their pages scanned. If you get more than that, you’re charged 30 cents a piece and 25 cents a scanned page.
There’s also a $20 monthly plan (100 pieces, 100 scans, lower overage fees) and a $60 plan (250 pieces, 200 scans) that doesn’t make much sense, since you’re paying three times as much for only twice as many scans. But whatever.
Physically forwarding mail costs still more. Asking for four letters to be mailed to me cost $6.80; it came by DHL courier.
If you don’t want a P.O. box, then for an extra $20 or $25 a month, you can have a street address in Hollywood, the financial district in San Francisco or Park Avenue in Manhattan. As the Web site cheerfully observes, getting one of these mailing addresses comes “at a fraction of what an executive suite costs.”
(A note on the competition: paperlesspobox.com costs less — $10 monthly for 200 scans — but it’s much less sophisticated. They scan everything and e-mail it to you. You don’t have the option to review the envelopes before they’re opened and scanned, and you don’t get choices like Shred or Recycle.)
The high prices are easy to understand; every step of the service involves manual labor. But over all, the cost is a pretty persuasive argument for just using e-mail.
On the other hand, there’s something special about postal mail that makes me hope it never goes away completely. For the purposes of reviewing Earth Class Mail, I invited readers of my blog to send mail to my Earth Class Mail address — and bless their hearts, they did just that. It poured in from all over the United States, as well as Brazil, the Virgin Islands, the Netherlands, Israel, Germany, Thailand, Canada, England, Vietnam and Japan. Most wrote clever quips or friendly hellos. (Thanks, everyone!)
The experiment reminded me of what’s missing from e-mail: that magical sense of transport. Getting e-mail from Vietnam is just not the same as holding a postcard in your hands (or even looking at a scan of it), seeing the original handwriting, looking at the photo on the front and pondering its journey across the world.
So yes, Mrs. K would have had a field day finding fault with Earth Class Mail. But for anyone who still sees value in postal mail, if only for special occasions, here’s to anything that helps bring it into the 21st century.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.