Note: I appeared on American Public Media’s Marketplace todayto talk about sharp increases in US postal rates that will have a
MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: On July 15 postal rates for magazines are slated to go up…dramatically. It’s nothing new really…postal rates are always going up. But this is different. In the past, most postage hikes were applied more or less across all publications. This time, big magazine publishers will get a big discount, small fry won’t. A coalition of small magazines from The National Review on the right to The Nation magazine on the left say that’s not fair. Here’s Editor and Publisher of The Nation: Katrina vanden Heuvel.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The radical restructuring that small publications face could end upsilencing the diverse voices our Founding Fathers tried to foster whenthey created the national postal system.
Sure, like everyone else, we’d like to avoid a massive increase incosts. And it’s not that we’re afraid of intellectual competition; wewelcome it.
But postal policy for the past 215 years has played a pivotal role increating an extraordinarily free press. And we shouldn’t let thismagnificent tradition change.
In this latest postal rate hike, the US Postal Service itself hadproposed a 12 percent increase that would have affected most magazinesmore or less equally.
Surprisingly, the Postal Regulatory Commission rejected that proposaland adopted a complicated alternative devised by the giant publisherTime Warner.
That proposal would give huge discounts to big magazines. But smallermagazines would have to swallow hikes of between 15 and 30 percent.
It looks like the Postal Service will adopt these rates withoutresearch into how it affects small and medium sized magazines, andwithout any meaningful public input.
For some small publications such huge and unexpected increases mayprove fatal. New periodicals will find it very tough to enter themarket. That means magazine publishing will get much lesscompetitive.
Time Warner argues that this is simply sane pricing by the postalauthorities to reward efficiency.
But wait a minute. The Postal Service is a monopoly. If magazineslike ours that require the post office to distribute our wares dislikethe onerous new rates, we have nowhere else to turn.
For decades, the Postal Service has always used its pricing mechanismto encourage smaller publications and competition.
From Madison and the Founders in the 1790s on, the idea was that lowrates for small publications made it possible to have the rich, open,and diverse media a self-governing people required.
No less than that is at stake today. For every American.