Under normal circumstances, the Soundgarden box set and Bob Dylan album that Steve Stevenson sent from his record store in Oakland to a customer in Ashland, KY, might take five to seven days. But on July 29, after Stevenson shipped the package via U.S. Postal Service, it traveled to San Francisco, then Cincinnati, followed by Charleston, W.V., before reaching its final destination on Aug. 17.
“There’s this strange slowdown in sorting, then far-flung movements to bizarre destinations,” says Stevenson, owner of 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. “Which causes an increase in anxiety from the customer: ‘I live two hours from you — why is my package in New Jersey?'”
The Trump Administration’s dramatic USPS changes in recent weeks — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy cut off overtime for mail carriers, removed public mailboxes and scaled back post-office hours — has been a political flashpoint due to its potential impact on mail-in election ballots. They’ve also affected Social Security recipients, veterans who need crucial medication and, yes, Soundgarden fans who pay for vinyl shipments to arrive in less than 19 days.
“We’ve seen packages get slow with Covid — and we’ve seen it get slower the last couple weeks,” says Brandon Bogajewicz, owner of 5-year-old mail-order company Vinyl Moon. “It was already shit, and somehow managed to get worse, which is impressive.”
When COVID-19 shut down much of the world in March, record stores closed their physical locations for weeks, and owners feared going out of business — but online sales have turned out to be a lifeline. Stevenson’s shop has grown from 10-15% online sales to 60% in recent months; Academy LPs, in New York City, closed its physical store earlier this year and now makes 5% of its revenue from local pickups and 95% from online orders.
“We all just rely on the Post Office in such a real way,” says Cory Feierman, the store’s manager. “Defunding it is a criminal act.”
On Discogs, an online music marketplace, buyers and sellers have been complaining about the Postal Service changes for weeks. Mambo Madness, which lists 4,832 LPs and other items for sale, appends this message to customers: “Due to political circumstances, the USPS is purposely being slowed down, and orders within the USA which were normally delivered within 5 to 8 days are now taking weeks.” According to Aub Driver, a Discogs spokesman, 86% of the company’s sellers use the Postal Service, as do 79% of buyers. He says of potential rate hikes and delays: “For sellers working on very thin profit margins, it’s a huge issue.”
DeJoy, a Trump donor, has said he’s merely overhauling the struggling USPS. Kim Frum, a spokesperson, referred to DeJoy’s comments earlier this month: “We have begun by vigorously focusing on the ingrained inefficiencies in our operations . . . we have taken immediate steps to better adhere to our existing operating plans.” After Democrats and several attorneys general announced investigations and hearings, DeJoy said Tuesday he would suspend the measures until after Nov. 3 — “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re really going to do it,” says Ryan Cameron, owner of the St. Paul, Minn., online store Let It Be Records, which ships 6,000 to 7,000 packages a year. “The level of concern of people ordering online has been ratcheted up — that’s palpable.”
Several vinyl-shipping outlets say they haven’t noticed a difference in recent weeks, including record-shipping service Vinyl Me, Please, which uses USPS’ Media Mail rate for domestic orders. Jeffrey Berg, who owns Long Island, N.Y., distributor Monostereo and two Record Shop outlets in New York, says Media Mail shipping times have increased recently from 4-15 to 7-30 days — but he attributes the delays to the pandemic, not necessarily USPS cuts. “There are definitely some postal issues,” he says. “If the Post Office isn’t here, we’re not going to sell records.”
And Legacy Supply Chain, the distributor that owns embattled distributor Direct Shot, hasn’t seen much impact beyond ongoing bottlenecks from COVID-19 shutdowns. “You’ve flooded the Post Office, that’s not really quite ready for it, with a huge volume of shipping inventory,” says Kyle Krug, Legacy’s marketing and communications director. “That’s really the root of what’s causing delays today.”
But Travis Klein, co-owner of Human Head, a Brooklyn store that ships hundreds of records in a typical day, says a longtime contact at his local Post Office has been warning him about being “severely limited” in services recently and he’s seeing new notifications stamped “arriving late” on packages. “A month to get across the country is unheard-of,” Klein says. “Media Mail is generally relatively undependable, but it’s been even worse.” Adds Dave Martin, head of physical for the Omnian Music Group, which runs several indie labels: “I’ve noticed it with packages not moving, or not even showing up in the tracking system. Everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, all of a sudden, it’s even slower than it ever was.’ You just cross your fingers it’s going to show up.”