I had this idea a few months ago, but saw that someone had already created this service (see L-Mail). Now a new start-up called Postful is entering the business. Basically, for $0.99, they’ll take an email, print it, and mail it for you. So they could mail your Grandma an email, if she doesn’t use email.
Also, I don’t think this needs to just apply to people w/o email addresses — people love to get things in the physical mail. So I’d love to send a friend an email, as a physical letter. Or send an “ecard” that’s actually a physical greeting card.
I think this could possibly be done for free (ad-supported). You could likely negotiate a rate with the USPS for roughly $0.23 per mailing (?) based on volume (like corporations do with mass mailings).
Then the person sending the email as snail mail, could either pay a fee ($0.99?) to have just that sent — or they could have it sent for free, advertising-supported. Thus, in the envelope would be offers from Home Depot, Amazon.com, a coupon for $1 off the latest Campbell’s Soup, and an insert telling about a new movie coming out.
Just like any other mailer sent to someone by snail mail, the advertising companies could focus their advertisements on a locale (i.e. just sent my ad to people in Texas).
But better than any other snail mail spam, users will actually OPEN these — to read the email/letter from their friend or loved one. Will they look at the advert inserts? Who knows, but they’ll at least open the envelope.
Maybe the sender even selects what ads will be inserted from a quick list of 10 options.