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Published on February 27th, 2009 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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Zumbox: A Viable Paper Mail Killer?


zumbox mail view[social_buttons]What are the environmental costs of “snail mail?” That’s easy, right: paper-based mail has a massive footprint when one takes into account the harvesting of trees, the production of paper, and the disposal of much of what we receive in our mail boxes.

What’s the answer?  Electronic mail… right?

Well… maybe. If you have someone’s email address, or can easily find it, email as currently configured does provide a viable alternative.  But, ever tried to email everyone on your block? If you’re a marketer, ever tried to simply email everyone on your snail mail list? For the most part, unless you’ve taken steps to gather those email addresses, you can’t complete these tasks: email addresses have no immediate connection to a physical address.

Enter Zumbox, a start-up based in the Los Angeles area.  Their solution to the paper-email dilemma: create an electronic mailbox for every physical mailing address in the United States.

Yes… rather than offering a service to remove you from mailing lists, or scan your paper mail into electronic format, or complete tasks like bill-paying online, Zumbox has created a platform that they hope will create a viable, all-inclusive, paper-free alternative to snail mail.

Confused?  That’s OK… Zumbox is doing something quite different.  Company president Glen Ward provides an effective example on the Zumbox blog:

Suppose your dog or cat (perish the thought) goes missing. With Zumbox, you can send a notice with a photo (and video, if you like) to all of your neighbors…digitally. You don’t have to know their email addresses, and you don’t have to walk house-to-house. And since Zumbox is a closed system-mail is sent from one Zumbox to another-it provides total accountability. You know precisely where all of your Zumbox mail is coming from. If your neighbor sends an overwhelming number of missing pet notices or Bar-B-Que invites (it can happen), you can opt to block mail from that sender. In this sense, Zumbox represents a new way to communicate and connect with your community (or not).

When I talked to Rob Read, who’s handling social media outreach for Zumbox, I was really curious about what he labelled the “chicken and egg” challenge facing the company: if both sender and received have to be Zumbox users, won’t that make it difficult to get this venture off the ground? It’s not like email, where I can send a message to anyone with an email account anywhere: I and my neighbors have to be Zumbox users for the above scenario to work.  The upside, he told me, is cost: in many cases, a user can send a message through Zumbox for free.  For direct mail and other business/bulk mailings, the costs will be significantly lower than US postal rates. Add the environmental benefits and convenience, and there are definitely a number of advantages to the system Zumbox has created.

As Rob and I were talking, it also occurred to me that this should be a godsend for the direct mail industry.  I don’t know if companies like MailStopper (formerly Greendimes) are cutting into their profits, but this gives that industry another way to do what it does without trying to recreate databases with email addresses. Zumbox also makes it easier for the consumer to get off a mailing list (or, at least, block particular mailings).

Lots of bloggers weighing in on Zumbox: go see what our friends at Eco Child’s Play, EcoGeek, Triple Pundit, and MNN have said.  Of course, I’m interested in what you have to say… whaddaya think?  Paper mail killer?  Or not…



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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at



9 Responses to Zumbox: A Viable Paper Mail Killer?

  1. mikey says:

    thats assuming every physical address has online access, which they dont, especially in poorer areas – where cats may/may not be more likey to go missing.

    i suppose it may have its upsides, but i can see it getting abused in a spammy sense, and dont we get enough of that already?

    im all for cutting down on the amount of paper mail, especially the junk – but thats not so hard (in the UK at least) just get your address on the Mail preference List. easy.

    hate to put a downer on this but it seems too many folks are desperate to be the next best thing. if only their energies / talent were channelled into solving real problems….

    just my tuppence worth….

    oh, and dont forget about all those posties (postmen)… are they gonna carry little laptops around? i can see it now, knock knock? hello madam, could you just login and check your post? thanks.

    i dinna think so….

  2. Confused says:

    “The upside, he told me, is cost: in many cases, a user can send a message through Zumbox for free. For direct mail and other business/bulk mailings, the costs will be signifcantly [sic] lower.”

    Lower than free? What?

  3. @Confused…as well you should be… I’ve edited that passage, but, in short, the rates for business/bulk mailings would be lower than USPS rates… got ahead of myself (or behind myself… not sure which)

  4. Yes, I was a little confused by the way that read as well. Thanks for clearing that up, but I think that Mikey has a valid point when he brought up that MANY homes all accross the world are currently without regular internet access. It may be hard for us techies to believe, but it is sadly true. What about these folks?

  5. GREAT Idea … BUT …
    What about those of us who don’t really live anywhere?

    I’m a full time RVer, meaning that I live in my 43′ bus full time. We don’t have a residence. I have a mailing address, but even that’s created through a service (we use http://www.MyRVMail.com ).

    We move around every few weeks to a new destination (with the exception of the winter months when we stay in Bonita Springs, FL for several months in a row, with occasional jaunts on the weekends). Each place we go, we have a new temporary mail address that we almost always receive snail mail at. But after a few days to a few weeks, we’re off and any mail sent to us there gets returned.

    Does Zumbox have a viable option for people like us too? If so, then WOW! What a tool!

    I’ve gotta say that having lived this way for 4 years as of 1/29/2009, one of the absolute BEST things about it has been not getting all that junk mail! It’s fantastic to login online and see each envelope that has come in, click a button to put it into the trash, click another button to have it opened and faxed (digitally of course), and then simply hit the “save” button and it’s in the filing cabinet! When I think about all the trees we’ve saved these past 4 years just because of the smaller amount of mail, I’m amazed!

    Gina Gaudio-Graves
    Author, Speaker & “The JV Queen”

  6. Rob Reed says:

    On behalf of Zumbox, the platform can be a bit confusing and words don’t always do it justice.

    With regard to those who don’t have Internet access, Zumbox is not either/or. It’s just an option. When FedEx came along, the USPS didn’t offer overnight delivery. A private company provided that need. Today, the USPS doesn’t offer digital delivery. So Zumbox is now providing that need. You will still get USPS mail delivery. It’s just that you can now migrate some of that to digital i.e. paperless.

    In terms of “spam”, it’s really not possible with Zumbox. While someone can send you an unsolicited special offer to your Zumbox, a number of features prevent it from being “spam”. First, the sender has to sign up with Zumbox in order to send mail. There is total accountability. Secondly, there is a cost to send that mail. Even at 5 cents, it’s a significant disincentive to send spam. Third, your mail is pre-sorted into relevant mail, special offers, and newspapers. All advertising goes into special offers. You can choose to check it or not. Fourth, with one click you can block anyone who sends you mail.

    But also think about small businesses and their ability to market locally and efficiently to their immediate neighborhoods. The local coop market or theater could send out special offers to people in a few-block radius (walking distance) to either attract or reward local residents. It makes direct mail more local, measurable, and eco-friendly.

    Gina: You may want to contact support@zumbox.com. You do need to have some type of street address in order to have a Zumbox, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a residence.

  7. Meredith says:

    Love this !!!!!! So awesome..but what are we going to do about all those postal workers when their out of work…lol : – (

  8. Pingback: An Interview With the Director of Marketing of Zumbox, the New Promise for Paperless Mail : Sustainablog

  9. Nora says:

    I agree with all the up sides mentioned, but so far for me the down side is that I have yet to receive ANY mail whatsoever on Zumbox. I’ve had it since it started, and still nothing. I already receive most of my bills electronically either through the companies’ websites or through MyCheckfree.com. So Zumbox would handle the rest of my snail mail, if only it actually would. :(
    If this is working for someone, please make some suggestions to make it work for the rest of us. Thanks!

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