I regularly tell business owners that regardless of the circumstance, whether you perceive it to be good or perceive it to be bad, it all deserves only one response--"Fascinating!" My recent experience with the U.S. Postal Service was about as fascinating as it gets.

Considering what happened, there might have been a few other F-words early on, but we got to "Fascinating!" as fast as we could. It's really a much healthier place to work from. You have to have a sense of humor about this stuff because life is really too short to be little. But this is so bizarre that I think as a public service, others should know about this obscure, but extremely common practice by the USPS.

Where's Waldo?

In May we shipped 20-plus cases of books to a conference where I was supposed to be in front of thousands of people for a keynote. Four cases of them, 88 books, never arrived. They were the very first books out in public from our new, second edition of Making Money Is Killing Your Business. We filed a claim with the USPS, but knew the chance of ever seeing them was negligible. We went ahead and reshipped them via FedEx (they all got there). The P.O. losing stuff isn’t new, but what follows gets goofy.

A week later one of our staff was finalizing our new Amazon.com account for the second edition and found "used" copies for sale by multiple companies on Amazon. This made no sense since the only books that were public from this new edition were on their way to that conference. The online resellers told us they had bought the books at a U.S. Postal Service "Mail Recovery Center" auction days earlier, before our books were even supposed to arrive at their destination. "Fascinating!"

Hello? Is anybody home?

For over a week we contacted everyone at the U.S. Postal Service we could think of, from the local station manager, to Consumer Affairs, to the Postal Service Inspector's Office. The responses ranged from versions of "tough nuggies" to "it's not my job." After a Denver TV station ran a lengthy news segment on it, USPS people started coming out of the walls, not apparently to solve the problem, but to contain the PR damage. But at least we learned what was going on. And you should know as well; it really is fascinating.

Sold to the man in the lime-green leisure suit!

Ever wonder where your lost packages end up? According to the Colorado Consumer Affairs Office for the Postal Service, they sell stuff all the time when they can't find the owner, or in our case, before they attempt to find the owner. This is true whether it's insured or not. For decades it used to be a live auction at a few locations around the U.S. Then the whole auction thing was moved to Atlanta to something loosely named the Mail Recovery Center, or MRC ("recovery" may not have been the best choice for the title).

Now the whole thing is online and you can buy my stuff every day. And the profits all go to keeping the Post Office solvent, so you can feel good about that. Consumer affairs said the MRC sold my stuff because anything valued (by them) at under $25.00, and books that arrive in lots of 10 or less, can be sold immediately.

How cool is that? Great profit center for the P.O. Except my books are clearly marked $28.95 each and arrived at the MRC in one lot of 88 books. They were auctioned off that way--again, before they were even supposed to arrive at their destination (I keep saying that because the whole story is more "Fascinating!" that way.) They're supposed to hold everything for 30 to 180 days, but apparently that is only in theory. Consumer affairs had no explanation for why the books weren't held for any length of time, or why they didn't try to find the guy whose name was splashed across all 88 covers.

After weeks of waiting, we finally got the Post Office to buy back some of the books from the online resellers and send them to us. But as of yesterday, almost three months later, those same resellers were still selling some of my new books as "used," on our own Amazon.com account, and one claims they bought more of my books from the P.O. just last week. Bizarre. The Post Office made a tidy profit selling our $3,100 worth of books, and the third-party dudes were making a killing as well. At least someone was having a good time.

Can I have some of that?

I asked the P.O. if they were going to give me the profits they made from my books. Consumer affairs gave me a flat "no." I'll check with my accountant to see if I can take their profit as a deduction on my taxes, but I'm guessing I'll get another flat "no."

It ain't over till it's over

I tried for another month to get the P.O. to pay enough attention to buy back the rest of the books still being sold online, but they had already sent me a letter in June that my situation was resolved. Many emails and phone calls since have come and gone without a response. I guess sending the letter makes it resolved.

Going, going, gone!

They're probably all in the Bahamas living off the profit from my book. Who could blame them? I guess maybe me, but again, life is too short to be little. But I thought you all needed to know the Post Office has found alternative profit centers auctioning off your stuff, in case you wanted to ship with more reliable and responsive services that make their profit off getting your stuff where it's supposed to go.

"Fascinating!" (But not surprising, right?)