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SHIPPING - E-MAIL HAS TAKEN A BITE OUT OF SLOVAK POST'S PROFITS

The postman rings less?

ALONG with the teacher, the shopkeeper and the priest, the postman was an essential part of life for every Slovak village. But with the spread of computers and the growing use of e-mail, those women and men dressed in blue uniforms and pulling around their little carts might slowly disappear - or at least ring the doorbell much less often.

ALONG with the teacher, the shopkeeper and the priest, the postman was an essential part of life for every Slovak village. But with the spread of computers and the growing use of e-mail, those women and men dressed in blue uniforms and pulling around their little carts might slowly disappear - or at least ring the doorbell much less often.

Slovak Post's profit before tax in 2006 was Sk554 million (€16.8 million), an 11.5-percent drop year-on-year. Last year, Slovak Post delivered 290 million pieces of mail, a number comparable to 2005.

However, Slovak Post has said it is trying to balance the dropping interest in snail-mail by widening its offerings for the business community, according to the Czech ČTK newswire.

The trend afflicting Slovak Post has already been felt in developed countries around the world. Writing hard-copy letters is becoming a rare form of communication, professionals say.

"People have limitless options for keeping in contact and communicating with each other and maintaining their relationships, and the trend now is building social networks through the internet," Zuzana Sehnalová of the Millennium 000 IT company told The Slovak Spectator.

"In the business community, electronic communication now clearly exceeds the traditional means of communication."

And once the electronic signature system becomes more widely used, it will be possible for people to conduct all their business communications electronically, she said.

Sociologists agree that even if letter-writing survives, it will happen in electronic form.

"(Letters) will become more multimedia - with, for example, attachments of family videos, scanned school report cards or hyper-links to the online family album," said Zuzana Kusá, a sociologist with the Slovak Academy of Science's Sociological Institute.

Kusá said you have to look at why people to first started writing letters to explain this trend. For the majority of society, letters served a tool for bridging absences and maintaining long-distance relationships.

But e-mails, text messages and chatting preserve some of the traits of traditional letters, such as the quality of thinking and the way of expressing oneself that are more difficult to achieve in direct communication, she said.


E-mail vs. snail-mail


The clear advantage of e-mail over regular mail is its effectiveness in terms of time and money, Sehnalová said.

But people tend to treat a mailed letter from an unknown sender differently than they would treat e-mails from unknown sources, which they usually just delete, Kusá said.

As far as personal communication is concerned, a mailed letter from someone we have regular contact with by e-mail or over the phone can almost be a shocking and unnatural thing, which scares people rather than pleasing them, she said.

But the power of modern communication has not had a negative impact on society, she said.

"The research that I have recently done with students suggests that the option of immediate communication has brought more spontaneity to their lives, as far as meeting their friends or organising their time is concerned," Kusá told The Slovak Spectator. "At the same time, it makes even people and institutions that were traditionally intimidating by their distance, more accessible: a text message can be used to send an immediate apology to a professor or to a bureaucrat."

However, some linguists link the extensive use of abbreviations in text messages to the worsening grammar use of young people, she said. But this could also be a result of the dominance of audiovisual media and the drop in the culture of reading.


Mail service opening up


Other changes are coming to the country's mail carrier. Slovak Post is a universal postal service provider, which means it has to ensure certain quality and delivery conditions at affordable prices on every working day of the year, and across the whole country.

Currently, Slovak Post is preparing for the postal services market to open up fully, starting in January 2009. Postal services in Slovakia have been undergoing a gradual liberalisation process since 2002. In the last four years, the weight of packages that Slovak Post has the exclusive right to deliver has fallen from two kilograms to the current 50 grams.

Full liberalisation would require removing Slovak Post's exclusive rights on 50-gram deliveries and deciding who, and under what conditions, will provide Slovakia's universal postal service.

At the beginning of October 2006, the European Commission approved a proposal to fully liberalise the European postal service market and open it up to competition starting in 2009. The EC said that mail delivery companies should not have a legal monopoly on any type of delivery service.

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