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Independent magazines take a hit

New postal rules treat small periodicals unfairly.
By Christopher L. Walton
Fall 2007 8.18.07

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The marketplace of ideas just got a lot more expensive. When postage rates went up in May, I groaned quietly about the 2-cent increase for First Class stamps, but the much steeper postage increase facing magazines like this one made me see red. While First Class mail went up 5 percent, smaller magazines were surprised by postage increases of 15 to 30 percent. An increase like that hurts, especially at a nonprofit magazine. What hurts more is that the new rates give big discounts to media giants like People while charging smaller independent magazines like The Nation—and UU World—more. Even worse, the media giants wrote the new rules.

The new postage rates matter to our democracy: For 215 years, uniform postage rates for periodicals have maintained a level playing field for magazines of all types, making it possible for minority viewpoints—like ours!—to join the conversation. For a large country, the mail has functioned as the most enduring national marketplace of ideas. Now, small magazines with big ideas must pay more to play.

UU World has joined a broad coalition of independent magazines—from the conservative National Review to the liberal Mother Jones—to urge Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission to reconsider these unfair rates. The Post Office put off implementing the rates until July 15 because they could not quickly develop software to calculate the complex new rates. As we prepare to go to press in mid-July, we know the new rates will apply to this issue—but we still don’t know how much they’ll be. As you can imagine, that makes budgeting difficult.

The new periodicals rate schedule was proposed by Time Warner, Inc., the largest magazine publisher in the United States, and adopted by the politically appointed Postal Service Board of Governors over a rate schedule proposed by the U.S. Postal Service itself. The new rates give discounts to the largest magazines—chock full of ads and distributed to millions—while saddling smaller magazines with higher costs because we simply cannot take advantage of the economies of scale that giant magazines enjoy. If there were millions of you, or if you all moved to a handful of zip codes, the new rates might work in our favor.

The House subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service plans to hold hearings on the rate increase in October. If you’d like to speak up about the rate hikes, visit stoppostalratehikes.com.

We bid a fond farewell to Tom Stites, who retired from the UUA in June after helping to cover the General Assembly (page 38). A journalist for more than forty years and head of the UUA’s Periodicals office for ten, Tom also writes haiku as a spiritual discipline. We’re pleased to present some of this more personal work in “Reflections” (page 21).

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