Dear Royal Mail

Wellington at night

Dear Royal Mail,

I’ve got an idea that’ll make you a few bob, make me and a bunch of other people happy, and revive interest in what we folk on the internet call “snail mail”.

Geek folk have been getting quite excited about printed things in the last year or so, and that excitement is growing. Many geeks are terribly fed up with electronic communication, but they still love their computers. They want to find ways that will help them communicate on paper, via their computers.

A lot of them would love to be sending more postcards more often, for example, but it’s a hassle to buy a postcard, buy a stamp, find a postbox, send the thing.

How about you make something that would take away that hassle, but still let us send postcards to the people we love – printed objects that would arrive through the letterbox and make those people smile? Hmm?

Here’s the idea: you make a mobile application. I use an iPhone, so I’d like it to work there, but you could make it to run on all sorts of phones.

And it needn’t be complicated. Here’s what it would do:

  1. You open the app, and you’re asked to take a photo (or pull one in from your existing photo albums)
  2. You’re asked to enter some text – about 60-100 words. There’s a little counter visible on screen that tells people how much space they’ve got left as they enter text.
  3. You’re asked for an address. If the recipient is already in your phone’s address book, it’s simple: just tap on their name and it’s done. If not, just type in an address manually.
  4. Tap the “Send” button on the phone.
  5. Over at Royal Mail HQ, you have a few machines set up to print these postcards out. It’s all automated. The cards are done on-demand, as-needed, and posted as normal.
  6. A day or so later, the recipient gets their postcard, and smiles.

Now, you could give away the app itself for free, and charge for the postcards. The important thing is to charge the right sort of price – I know print-on-demand is more expensive, so people will expect to pay more for it. But don’t be greedy. The price has to be low enough to make it not-worth-thinking-about. People have to not care about spending it. That will make them send lots and lots of cards.

I’d suggest something between 50p and £1 per card would be good.

There’s room for flexibility, of course. You could have First and Second class cards, for example. You could have cards that are plain white on one side, and have the photo and the text on the other; or more expensive ones that are like a traditional postcard, with the image on one side and the text and address on the other. You could play around with these; some of them could become add-ons.

Thing is, this would be huge. Honestly. People would love it. No-one’s got time to faff around writing letters any more, but everyone’s got a phone and time to faff around on it while they’re waiting for trains and sitting on the beach. And everyone likes getting letters. They just don’t get round to writing them any more.

I think it would be so huge that you’d very quickly make profit from it. And of course, you could expand it into other services, like:

  1. Submit a bunch of photos, and the prints get delivered to the recipient
  2. Submit a longer text (perhaps via email) and it gets printed out (in a handwriting-style font of the writer’s choice), stuck in an envelope, and posted
  3. Super-cheap mini cards (talk to Moo about this) – a tiny photo, a line of text, and zap. Like Twitter, but in the post. Fantastic.

Anyway, that’s my idea. Hope you like it. Hope you make it. Cos I’d be using it straight away.

(20th July 2009)