- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The U.S. Postal Service says it is working with small publishers to make sure they understand a new set of mailing rules and rates that went into effect a month ago.

Shipping rates for periodical publications jumped an average of 11 percent in July when the Postal Service implemented a new pricing scheme to cover increased shipping costs.

Not surprisingly, the Postal Service has reported that the number of periodicals it mails has decreased. But for those pondering the new-media angle here, some have worried that cuts to a periodical’s print edition could affect its Web site.

“There is still no clear business model to support quality journalism online, and these print publications provide the resources to pay for the journalists and writers whose material is available in cyberspace,” group Free Press argues on its site, StopPostalRateHikes.com.

The postal-rate increases were scheduled to take effect May 15, but were delayed after a broad group of publishers said they needed more time to calculate what they owe under the new rate structure. Several publishers called the new rules — which are based on a modified rate proposal from Time Warner Inc., the biggest U.S. magazine publisher — inequitable.

“Our respective magazines — the Nation and the National Review — sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum and disagree on nearly every issue,” Nation president Teresa Stack and National Review publisher Jack Fowler said in a May op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. “But we concur on this: These proposed rate hikes are deeply unfair.”

The new rate structure is too complex to repeat here. But generally speaking, mailers who put mail on a pallet — a platform for stacking and securing lots of pieces of mail together — and send those pallets from a place that is close to where the mail is delivered will experience the smallest increase. The minimum weight of a pallet varies, but it ranges from 100 to 250 pounds.

The rules also “include new piece rates based on shape, machinability, barcoding and presort level,” according to the final Federal Register notice published on May 25.

“The Postal Service does not receive tax dollars for its operations and must cover the costs of the services it provides. The new prices for the delivery of periodicals are as low as they can go and still cover costs,” said David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service. “As far as getting the word out, we’ve put in a lot of effort and want to work with [publishers].”

In addition, the Postal Service says the changes will increase efficiency.

Small publishers say the rates will put them out of business while rewarding large, ad-heavy magazines. In their op-ed, the publishers said the Nation and National Review face $500,000 in additional postal expenses. Earlier this week, the conservative weekly Human Events sent an e-mail to readers asking for donations to help defray mailing costs.

“To put it in dollars and cents: [I]t will now cost us an extra $120,000 per year to deliver Human Events,” Thomas Winter, its editor in chief, wrote in the e-mail, posted on local media blog Fishbowl DC.

Regardless, the matter appears to be moot for the moment since the law has taken effect. It would take an act of Congress or the Postal Service’s board of governors to alter it.

“The decision is final,” Mr. Partenheimer said. “If there’s still confusion out there, we are definitely available to help them, talk to them about ways they can save money.”

Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. E-mail krowland@washingtontimes.com.