Postal Rate Increase Threatens Independent Media

A scheduled postal rate hike designed by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the United States, is threatening the viability of several independent publications that will likely see rate increases of more than 20%. Large publications will see rate increases of less than 10%.

stop postal rate hikes graphic

A postal rate hike scheduled to take effect on July 15 could threaten hundreds of independent print publications according to the media reform organization Free Press. In a move that critics are describing as “unprecedented,” smaller publications will face a rate increase by as much as 30%, while larger publications will see increases of less than 10%. In the past, rates have been skewed to allow for smaller publications to develop and rate increases have been made uniformly.

According to Free Press, the proposed rate increases were designed by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the United States. Time Warner’s rate increase scheme was chosen by the Postal Regulatory Commission over the recommendations of the United States Postal Service (USPS). The USPS had proposed a rate increase of 11.7% across the board in March 2006, but in February of 2007, the Postal Regulatory Commission adopted Time Warner’s 758 page proposal for a variable rate plan. Following this adoption, there was an eight day comment period during which their was little public involvement due to the complexity of the issue, the lack of media coverage, and the limited time that publications had to evaluate how it would affect them.

In a letter signed by the editors of The Nation, Mother Jones, the National Review, the American Spectator, and other print publications, the rate increases are described as “devastating.” The letter cites a review by McGraw-Hill showing that 5,700 small circulation publications will incur rate increases of 20%, another 1,260 publications will see increases above 25% and hundreds more will see increases of more than 30%. At the same time, large publications will benefit from smaller rate increases or rate decreases. The increases will make it difficult for existing publications to compete, while making it hard for new publications to be launched, thus effectively limiting the diversity of voices available in the magazine industry.

The attempted rate hikes and their likely effect on independent print publications come at a critical time for independent media. Already several important alternative print projects have recently shut their doors, including Clamor Magazine and the Independent Press Association. Despite all of the discussion of the new “digital age,” print remains one of the most important forms of media. Print has a wider potential audience than computer-based media, and is infinitely more portable. However, there has been less support for print publications in recent years, just as many in the progressive movement have come to see the digital activism embodied by organizations such as MoveOn as a substitute for the much harder–and ultimately more important–work of mobilizing people on the ground in our communities.

In response to the postal rate hikes, Free Press is asking people to participate in an email action to the Postal Board of Governors, the Postal Regulatory Commission, and the Postmaster General, as well as Congress. The letter calls for public hearings and highlights the role Time Warner played in the development of the rate increase. Free Press has had success on similar media policy issues in recent years, mobilizing effectively in support of “net neutrality” last year and organizing people to oppose the further consolidation of media.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org