A proposal by the US Postal Service to hike periodical postage rates by another 25% could force higher prices for your favorite newspapers and magazines, including this one. We have tried to absorb the 9.9% increase in periodical postage implemented this past January, as well as an increase of nearly 30% in the cost of newsprint over the past year, but like many independent publications we already are operating at the margins. Since we lack substantial advertising revenue, at some point we must pass cost increases to our subscribers.
The Postal Service's Board of Governors recently announced they would increase postal rates for magazines by 2.6% in July and plan another general rate increase of 10-15% -- and 25% for magazines -- for 2002, in an attempt to close a deficit projected at more than $2 billion this year. While major commercial publishers and Republican congressional leaders are calling for the Postal Service to become more efficient and operate more like a business, postal officials say they already have improved productivity and cut costs.
The Postal Service is operating as a business, as the law requires. Any private company facing the loss of revenue due to competition from email and express delivery services would try to make up the losses by socking it to those who have no realistic alternative to the US Mails -- such as publishers (and individual letter writers, for that matter). The law also requires each category of mail to pay for itself. In the past few rate increases, the Postal Service has given breaks to the biggest mailers who can bundle hundreds of their magazines (or junk mail) by zip codes or carrier routes. We bundle and bar-code where we can to make delivery easier, but we're lucky to have a couple hundred subscribers in a few states; that doesn't qualify for a discount.
Congress needs to recognize that the Postal Service is not a business. Further cost-savings, such as proposals to stop Saturday deliveries and close more rural post offices, will simply erode the quality of the service. There is a public interest in keeping periodical rates low to help independent publishers survive, just as there is a public interest in providing low-cost daily mail service across the country.
A Congressional Postal Caucus has formed, with Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) as chairman and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hi.) as vice chairman. Write them as well as your own reps, c/o US Senate, Washington DC 20510 or US House, Washington, DC 20515. Or call via the US Capitol switchboard, 202-224-3121. Please tell them to get the Postal Service to back off on rate increases and service cuts. Add that if necessary the US can afford to subsidize a free press as well as daily mail delivery. Thanks.
JIM CULLEN, Editor