Would You Pay to Kiss Postal Mail Goodbye?

Becky Worley
Special Contributor, Yahoo! Tech
Upgrade Your Life

A new service called Outbox promises to come to your house, collect your physical mail, and scan it so you can read it online via computer, iPad or smartphone. Clever, but worth paying for?

The start-up already has over 600 customers in Austin, Texas and is now testing the service in San Francisco, with hopes of a much larger geographic expansion in the future. The Outbox subscription fee is $5 a month.

Outbox’s “unpostmen” will collect mail from a P.O. Box, but amazingly they’ll also come to your physical address and remove mail from your mail box, or if you have a door or garage slot, they provide a special box they can access.

That mail is delivered to a secure warehouse where the physical paper is digitized and then sent to your email inbox. Once scans of physical mail start arriving in your email inbox, you can flag items as junk mail and tell Outbox you don’t want to receive mail from that sender again. Outbox will also alert you to new items they think qualify as junk. The site’s marketing explanation says “think of Outbox as a mail filter: we'll deliver only the mail items you want or need.”

If Outbox picks up a physical item that you want, for example a package, a check, or a birthday card, they will send a notification of that item and you can flag it for return delivery to your residence.

But does paying someone $60 a year to pick up mail from your own mailbox make ANY sense? I mean, I like lying on the couch as much as the next person, but I go by the mail box every day!

Okay, there are a few compelling arguments for Outbox: the afore-mentioned junk mail filtering, the digitization of items that can be organized and accessed anywhere, and a special case where you travel a lot or have a second home. And remember, there was a time when we said who’d ever give up their landline telephones so maybe digital snail mail is the future, and I just can’t see it.

But I have to think hard about the supposed timesaving benefits: does tossing an ad circular take more time than deleting an email? Is asking to have your birthday cards returned to you worth the hassle? And if there’s more than one person in your household, do you forward items to other recipients?

There are other services that digitize your mail:

  • Earth Class Mail starts at $20 a month. You redirect your mail to their address: either with a change of address for merchants or a forwarding request with the Post Office. Then they scan and send you an email of the mail.
  • Zumbox only accepts mail from merchants who will go paperless. This service organizes all that on a secure personal site and they offer all this for free, with the catch that they will send you ads from “verified marketers.”
  • Paytrust charges $10 a month to gather all your bills in a central remote location and alert you. This service is tied to your checking account, and they will make payments for you as well.

But it’s worth mentioning that most banks will give you electronic bill paying for free. And you can stop a lot of your junk mail by opting out of prescreened credit offers and blocking out much other junk by going to Catalog Choice.

Still, the founders of Outbox see the US Postal Service and its customers as a target ripe for disruption. Plus, the company has some serious investors, including Peter Thiel co-founder of Pay-Pal, who have given the company 2.2 million dollars to get the service up and running.

Would you sign up for Outbox? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Austin skyline image thanks to StuSeeger.