Those of us at The Nation have been banging on for some months about the issue of postage rates. In particular, we’ve been expressing deep concern about the radical restructuring of those rates in a manner that favors magazines with large circulations and transfers costs to small- and mid-circulation publications.
On the rack of journals of opinion, The Nation is indeed a large publication. Along with its ideological opposite, the conservative National Review, The Nation‘s circulation makes it one of the major jousters in the current clash of ideas. But against consumer magazines that are less engaged with the political and policy fights of the day than with the pursuit of mass circulation and the advertising dollars that follow it, The Nation definitely falls into that “mid-circulation” range of publications that is taking a huge hit as big media companies flex their muscles in the regulatory sphere.
This fight is about more than one magazine, and more than one ideology. Representatives of journals of opinion from across the ideological spectrum are united in their loud objection to the stacking of the distribution deck against publications that explore the issues from libertarian, old-right, new-right, centrist, liberal and progressive perspectives.
The message delivered at today hearing of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s subcommittee that deals with the postage service was a fundamental one: The sort of publications that the founders imagined as the essential documenters and arbiters of our democratic discourse are being threatened by federal policy making that favors size over content, that favors bigness over quality.
Scott McConnell of The American Conservative magazine explained in testimony submitted to the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia Subcommittee of the House Committee “the postage increases we are facing under the new provisions are little less than catastrophic.
Christopher L. Walton, editor of UU World, the terrific quarterly magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations explained that, “It is disturbing to learn that the new rates abandon the long-standing American tradition of supporting a diverse marketplace of ideas with a fair and uniform postage rate for periodicals. Historically, the periodicals rate allowed small journals of opinion to reach a national audience. But the new rates reward high-circulation periodicals with discounts that smaller-circulation periodicals simply cannot qualify for. Instead, we face a steep and unfair increase in mailing costs.
In These Times editor Joel Bleifuss, with his usual laser focus on the core issues involved, informed the committee that, “In August 2007, In These Times, an independent magazine based in Chicago, was hit hard by a 23 percent postal rate increase. This complex new rate structure, designed by and for the benefit of the largest publishing companies, has severely impacted our small magazine’s ability to do business. We face an immediate threat to our financial health. These reckless postal rate increases are aimed at the heart of our nation’s independent press. I urge you to ask the spokespeople of the media conglomerates whether they would support these increases if their mailing costs had risen 23 percent. This is a democracy issue. The founding fathers, in their infinite wisdom, created a system that made it cheaper for smaller publications, irrespective of viewpoint, to launch and survive. In 1792 the United States Congress converted the free press clause in the First Amendment from an abstract principle into a living reality for Americans by providing newspapers with low postal rates. These low rates were crucial for the growth and spread of the abolitionist movement, the progressive movement and, later, the civil rights movement. More broadly, they have been central to the development of participatory democracy in general. Today, low postal rates remain crucial to the survival of independent American publications like In These Times.”