Miss Dem

{August 9, 2008}   usps

USPS: Big Problems for Small Publishers

27 July 2007

Since the Pony Express, the U.S. has put forth a solid show of support for snail mail forms of communiqué. As costs have inflated in other areas of life, the U.S. Postal Service has consistently worked hard to keep costs low enough that even poor people can communicate with others and pay their bills. Meanwhile, the service is consistently high with the mailperson showing up once a day to drop off your prized bills, letters and postcards from abroad.

This, dear friend, has changed. In lieu of the standard, all-is-fair mode of postage pricing, the US
Postal Service has moved toward a system that is priced according to size as opposed to the traditional weight system. While the USPS maintains that this change more accurately reflects the true cost of transporting our mail, it has placed an undue burden on our media outlets.

In particular, magazines and newspapers are being hit hard due to their larger shape. This is significantly increasing the postage for many publishers forcing them to increase their subscription
rates or lose money. In an industry where every dollar literally counts – and subscribers are hard to retain – this does not bode well for print media.

In response, The Nation is leading an effort, with other print publishers, to draft (and hopefully introduce) legislation to overturn the recent rate changes and as The Nation editor, Katrina Vanded Heuvel wrote, “counter the power of high priced lobbyists and corporate power.” Read the Article

Under the traditional weighted system, publishers had a number of options for reducing weight. They could reduce the number of pages, change the paperweight and trim the edges if necessary. The new size structure precludes publishers from any of these industry cheats. In fact, it leaves very little room for price reduction due to the structure of the size standards.

While I am clearly an Internet junkie, I still greatly appreciate the ability to hold a magazine in my
hand and sift through the pages. Call it nostalgia for my childhood, but the tactile nature of
magazines adds a component to the experience that keyboards just haven’t yet replaced.

Beyond the sensory deprivation caused by fewer tactile publications, there is a very real fear of
intellectual deprivation that may be created as a result of this “size-mic” shift.

There is speculation that this new price structure was driven, in large part, by industry lobbying and
corporate interests. And it is true that the TimeWarner Cable’s of the world would rather folks
find their content online or on television. It’s how they make their money.

This is also where various issues tend to start interrelating, not necessarily through conspiracy, but by
unintended consequences. I have ranted and raved religiously about corporate owned media – and the
need for deconsolidation and Net Neutrality – for some time. If the media continues to be allowed to
consolidate – and further consolidate – the number of voices peaking up out of the sand will continue
to diminish. If the Internet is deregulated, then industries can begin controlling the speed by which its
consumers are able to view certain content, if they allow consumers to view that content at all.

Now let’s add to the scenario a significant reduction in print publishers due to unfair postal rate
charges. Suddenly, the corporations have either bought up or eliminated competing voices from the
supposed “marketplace of ideas.”

And this, dear friends, is why returning to the previous system of equitable postage rates becomes
critical to the foundation of our democracy. If people are unable to obtain objective information, or
at least have a choice of information sources, they will be unable to formulate informed opinions
about the world around them. And that is when democracy breaks down altogether.

So pick up your pen, or click a button and ask Tom Allen and Mike Michaud to please work with the
publishing industry to reverse this seemingly innocent intrusion on our freedom of speech. The Nation
and its coalition partners are looking for cosponsors for the bill they plan to draft later this year.

And, incidentally, Tom Allen’s office has already met with consumer advocates regarding the issue of
Net Neutrality; this should be a natural complement to that issue.


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