Farewell, Economy Mail
Alas, bad news: the USPS is going to restructure their products next month. Unsurprisingly, “restructure” means more or less “eliminate the cheap ones and raise the prices on the others”. In particular, they are eliminating all Economy Mail (i.e. surface mail) products — the new products are all airmail. Their prices are a little higher than the current airmail prices — but, of course, a lot higher than the current economy mail prices.
[Update: a new version of the International Mail Manual has now been published on the USPS web site. Here's a direct link to the prices for mailing to Slovenia.]
For a person who, like me, likes buying books on eBay, shipping costs are often a very significant part of the total amount I have to pay for a book. Economy mail was a great thing — sure, it took them 6–10 weeks to get here, but it was cheap.
The thing I will miss most is undoubtedly the good old Economy Mail M-bag. M-bags work like this: the sender puts the books, or whatever it is that they're sending, in a stout postal sack and entrusts it to the tender mercies of the postal system. The latter, as far as I understand, simply waits until there happens to be some bit of space on some ship that they can stow the sack into. And in two to three monts, you get your book — plus the sack, so that I now have three or four of these sturdy sacks in the basement — I'm not yet quite sure what to use them for; they aren't quite large enough to be useful for disposing of a human cadaver (unless you care to carve it up and distribute it among two or three sacks), but they would do just fine for a cat or a moderately-sized dog; — but I digress. You get your books, in short, and all for the princely sum of $1 per pound of weight, 11 lbs. minimum charge, until a couple of years ago when they raised the sum to $1.05 per pound of weight.
By comparison, Airmail M-bag to Slovenia currently costs $3.70 per pound. In May, both Economy and Airmail will be replaced by “Priority Mail International”, which doesn't seem to offer M-bags, but there will also be “International Priority Airmail” with M-bags at $4.40 per pound. But plain Priority Mail International seems to be cheaper; just like now, when plain Airmail Parcel Post was cheaper than Airmail M-bags.
It seems there also exists “International Surface Airlift” (= slow airmail to the destination country, surface mail within the destination country) which will offer M-bags at $2.35 per pound in the new pricing scheme. However, although it's available for delivery to many countries, Slovenia doesn't seem to be one of them. Grrr.
Anyway, everything that is going to be available in the new pricing scheme is quite a bit more expensive than Economy Mail was in the old pricing scheme.
On the upside, even under the new pricing scheme, the U$P$ is still cheaper than Roya£ Mai£ / Parce£force from the UK...