Discussion Papers

Thomas Baldry

Substitutionsbeziehungen zwischen traditionellen Briefdiensten und neuen Formen der Telekommunikation
Nr. 149 / Mai 1995


This paper deals with the substitution effects between traditional inland postal services such as First Class Letter Mail and Postcards and new telecommunications media. The growing intensity of private and business communications and the vast variety of new methods of communicating are major symptoms of the trend towards an information-based society. The efforts to gain a competitive edge through increased cost-awareness, for instance, have led to a reevaluation of established communications media and strategies and, consequently, to the restructuring of business information and communications systems. As a result, substitutional competition between new and existing media has become apparent and has accelerated changes in the postal markets. In the long run, the share of postal traffic taken by First Class Letters and Post-cards will gradually decline. This is not only due to the competition from new telecom-munication services, but also to dynamics in customer and competitor segments or changes in the regulatory environment.

Two main prerequisites for substitutional competition are simple access to telecommunications media and services and a high degree of user acceptance. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), Electronic Mail (E-Mail) and Telefax are the most important substitutes, with Telefax representing the biggest threat to traditional postal traffic at present. Its high market penetration and user acceptance are supported by sinking prices and a growing number of value-added fax services. Documents sent by E-Mail can have multiple recipients. Therefore, E-Mail systems are suitable for mass mailings. EDI is used for the exchange of standardised data and business documents between geographically separate units of one enterprise or between companies. In this respect, it can serve as a powerful substitute to interbusiness postal services. However, limited con-sumer knowledge of this services and difficulties in coordination between communica-tion partners are acting as barriers to the rapid adoption of EDI and E-Mail systems.

The decentralisation of business activities from the office to the home, named Teleworking, generates a frequent exchange of business documents and information. The concept of the ‘Virtual Office’ awakes increasing interest as the problem of business commuting grows. Multimedia markets may find favourable conditions ahead, but delays in several multimedia projects and the affluence of varying visions of the market’s future obstruct the planning and realisation of profitable concepts.

Postal services are not automatically diminished by new telecommunications media. New technologies do threaten incumbent ones, but they also lead to an increased de-mand for data and document exchange. This growth may partially involve established media such as letter mail. The share that traditional postal services win from additionally created communications demand has an influence on the net-effect of substitution.

A serious decrease in postal traffic is only to be expected once consumer knowledge, and thus, the penetration of the new media, has grown substantially. Previous studies have tended to overestimate the net-effects of substitution. This in turn gives evidence of the problems related to a quantitative analysis of the substitutional relationship between postal traffic volumes and new telecommunications services.

Only German language version available.

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