Fantastic philately: How Posts have kept an historical product interesting in the modern age

The past years have seen the release of a crypto stamp with digital twins and a world record-setting stamp that covers almost six square meters. These achievements have come while the 180-year-old philately sector navigates a digital world in which technology has both threatened philately’s existence and sparked movement toward its innovation.

Despite difficulties facing philately, especially in security and sales, posts continue to consider philately an important source of revenue and promotion for their business, said Stephane Cuennet, who works on the World Association for the Development of Philately (WADP) Secretariat and as the UPU’s Philately and IRC Programme Assistant.

“The postage stamp is so much more than a mere franking mark,” Cuennet said. “On top of being a true piece of art and a medium for advertising and promotion, a stamp can share a powerful message and offer a window into different cultures across the world – a calling card from each member country.”

Advancements in technology have improved the design and production of postage stamps, particularly in developing countries.

The growth of e-commerce brought with it e-philately, which allows for increased sales, especially internationally. And the rise of social networks enabled designated operators to communicate much more effectively, Cuennet explained.

These developments helped philately focus on the new generation of collectors. It is more than a utilitarian aspect of the postal system. Philately is a cultural tie that connects operators with communities. It is part of what inspires Cuennet in his work.

“[I am motivated by] the passion – sometimes to the point of obsession – of collectors, but also, and importantly, the passion of those who have brought this art to life for the last 180 years,” Cuennet said. “This unique universe has also allowed me to meet people from all backgrounds, driven by a shared and unwavering desire to develop and perpetuate philately.”

Market studies carried out by the UPU with the WADP working group found that between 2015 and 2019, social media use increased from 43 percent to 69 percent, and online shopping rose from 48 percent to 65 percent, with figures having increased since then.

“These statistics demonstrate the marketing evolution among operators that have managed to get on board with the digitalization of the economy, which have developed their business by reaching out to a greater number of customers and collectors,” Cuennet said. “At the same time, this evolution has provided collectors with almost instant access to more philatelic products.”

Additionally, the pandemic brought about a sharp increase in the online exchange of stamps and philatelic products, as well as a substantial amount of online sales and a large number of visits to philatelic e-shops and virtual stamp museums, he said.

“There was a general feeling that people reconnected in some way to the more traditional and physical world, pushing back against the unbridled digitalization of our societies,” Cuennet said.

Posts are taking innovating steps that showcase their mission and connection to their community, as well as stepping into the digital transformation to showcase philately.

Saudi Post, in collaboration with the annual entertainment festival Riyadh Season, set a Guinness World Record in February for the largest postage stamp. It measured 5.95 square meters and was made with the special ink and other materials used in actual stamps.

Swiss Post, in November, 2021, released its first crypto stamp. The 175,000 print run sold out in five hours. The physical stamps came with an associated digital “twin” that was stored on a blockchain and could collected, negotiated and exchanged just like classic stamps. Its success has led to a second crypto stamp’s release in August 2022.

Still, Cuennet said, philately is heading toward digitalization, and it begs the question: can traditional philately and digital philately coexist?

The arrival of digital philately, and particularly of crypto stamps based on blockchain, was unexpected, he said. And the sudden appearance of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) pushed member countries to confront unexplored territory from both legal and regulatory standpoints, not to mention the technical and marketing aspects.

The UPU and the WADP will work to maintain traditional philately while continuing to innovate and promote e-philately and digital philately, he said. Some operators have been able to guide and direct others. And the WADP provides support for operators that wish to integrate this new market.

“The UPU and WADP would stress the importance of security and regulatory frameworks in better protecting both the sector and collectors,” Cuennet said. “We encourage UPU member countries to adapt their legislation to the new digital trends, thus ensuring the future of their philately.”

This article first appeared in Union Postale No.2 2022.

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