"I was surprised by how cheap it is to fax something," said the study's author, Richard B. McKenzie, a professor in UCI's Graduate School of Management.
"The fax machine represents a real competitive challenge to the Postal Service," he said.
According to the study, faxing a two-page letter across country during peak business hours cost only 25 cents compared to a 29-cent stamp for first-class mail.
The fax price would be even cheaper if a business or home had a discount long-distance telephone service.
The costs of faxing versus mailing can vary greatly depending on the number of pages and the time and place that a letter is being faxed.
But in most cases, faxing is cheaper.
McKenzie said the study only compared differences in telephone rates and postage rates and did not include the costs of paper, envelopes or fax machines--which can range in price from $250 to $10,000.
Some people might find that mailing is more cost effective when considering the expense of a fax machine, McKenzie said. But for a typical business, the initial expense of buying the machine would be quickly recouped by the savings.
Because a faxed document is received within a few minutes after it is sent, McKenzie said a better comparison would be between a fax and express mail or same-day delivery service. In those instances, the fax is much cheaper, he said.
For example, a 99-page document could be faxed coast to coast during normal business hours before the Postal Service's Express Mail delivery charge of $9.95 is reached. That same document could be faxed for $6 on the weekend or even as little as $3.20 under long-distance discount rates.
McKenzie said that because of the growing use of facsimile machines, the Postal Service "seems to be holding back on price increases. . . . They have to be more guarded about raising prices because consumers now have alternatives."
McKenzie said the study took about three months to complete and was not funded by either the fax machine industry or telephone companies.
"I did this solely out of curiosity," McKenzie said. "I always thought the fax was cheaper, but I didn't know by how much."