Despite my finally learning how to use the automated postage machines at the Post Office and reluctantly acknowledging that using them is often more efficient than human interaction with postal employees, I still crave the human contact that a machine will never provide. So whenever the line is not unbearably long, I still opt to deal with a person when I need to mail a parcel. And last week I wound up getting into a great conversation with one of the postal clerks at New York City’s main post office.
After asking me the usual “hazmat” litany (e.g. Does the package you’re mailing contain any hazardous materials? etc.), he asked me if I was interested in purchasing an Ella Fitzgerald CD! Turns out that as part of a promotion around the Great Singers series of stamps issued by the USPS, they have also issued custom-made “Best Of” collections for a mere $10.99. I was instantly fascinated. How odd and potentially wonderful for the post office to be getting into the record business!
Of course, to woo younger listeners, that price tag is probably still too steep. Could there be a viable price point? Should the disc instead be given away with the purchase of a certain number of stamps? Or is a physical CD too quaint and too large an object if music is something that exists solely to serve as a personal soundtrack that can accompany you wherever you go? Perhaps younger people are not the target audience. Could this be for older listeners? My mother is from a generation that idolized Ella Fitzgerald and the other singers featured in this series—Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra. But she never learned how to use a CD player and nowadays gets most of her music from oldies radio. While I know full well that there are many other members of her generation who embraced compact discs long ago, can there be any who don’t already own an Ella Fitzgerald CD who would decide to get one now?
If it’s not for the young or the old, maybe this recording series is for the middle-aged, which I guess includes me. Admittedly I’m not the target audience for these recordings since I have scads of Ella, Nat and Ol’ Blue Eyes on even quainter and larger media, vinyl LPs. However might, say, the non-musician folks I went to junior high school with get intrigued enough by an Ella Fitzgerald stamp affixed to a birthday card someone sent them to consider purchasing a CD of her music the next time they’re buying stamps themselves? This could be the perfect time to track some of these folks down on Facebook and conduct a survey. Well, maybe not!
In lieu of figuring out more formal analytics, I asked the postal clerk how many Ella recordings he had sold so far. He seemed somewhat glum. “Only three, but I just got them in a few weeks ago,” he admitted. So I asked him what the post office is doing to promote this project. “Didn’t you hear the CD playing in the background when you came in?” I did not and neither would folks wearing ear buds whom we’ve already determined wouldn’t want this disc. But nevertheless maybe there is something to this idea. How could the post office encourage people to listen to music that is a treasured part of our national heritage? I imagined a Duke Ellington CD, and maybe one day USPS brand recordings for music by Charles Ives, John Cage, John Coltrane, Frank Loesser, Frank Zappa, or Ruth Crawford Seeger. There are so many amazing possibilities. Though if no one buys them, what does it accomplish? And, of course, fewer folks are using the post office these days, too, alas.