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May 23rd, 2007 Julie Sabatier | News Stories
 

Post Stress Syndrome

An impending postage rate hike means headaches for Portland's small-press hub of niche publications.

     
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As everyone grumbles about the cost of a first-class stamp rising 2 cents last week, small publications in Portland such as Plazm and Bitch are sweating their own rate hikes looming this summer.

They say their mailing costs will increase by 20 percent or more. And that could mean serious cutbacks for their operations, which already work on narrow financial margins.

"Because most independent media operates on a shoestring budget, these unfair rate hikes mean that the future of independent publications is at risk," Bitch magazine publisher and recent Portland transplant Debbie Rasmussen wrote in an email newsletter to about 6,400 of the 11-year-old nonprofit mag's supporters.

The Postal Regulatory Committee, an agency independent of the U.S. Postal Service, recommended the price escalation in March based on a rate structure proposed by media behemoth Time Warner.

The rate increase, which goes into effect July 15, affects about 5,700 periodicals nationwide and several here in Stumptown, which is something of a small-press hub, with Plazm, Herbivore, Imbibe, Bitch and one of the country's largest zine libraries at the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

Time Warner, the world's largest media conglomerate, publishes more than 100 magazines, including People and Fortune, and won't be affected by the rate increase in the same way as smaller periodicals. That's because circulation volume plays a major factor in the new, complex rate scheme. Periodicals that require bundling, sorting and transportation in smaller numbers will be paying higher prices. Whereas the post office previously determined rates based largely on weight, now quantity of advertising and destination will also affect the price of postage. (At WW, only about 200 of the paper's 90,000 copies are mailed each week, and circulation director Robert Lehrkind says the rate change won't affect the paper.)

Though the U.S. Postal Service originally proposed a single container charge, the Postal Regulatory Committee recommended 55 different prices based on container type, entry point and amount of sorting required, according to USPS spokesman David Partenheimer.

"The price level for periodicals is as low as it can go while still covering the costs incurred by the Postal Service to process and deliver periodicals," Partenheimer says. "No other grouping of mail enjoys such low prices relative to its costs."

That's bull, says Joshua Berger, publisher of Plazm, a 15-year-old Portland-based design and culture magazine with 45,000 readers.

"This is yet another attempt by global corporations—specifically Time Warner—to minimize the availability and impact of independent sources of media," Berger says.

The 10-month public comment period for the rate increase came and went without much fanfare, but the nonprofit media reform group Free Press has joined several publications like Bitch to launch a letter-writing campaign urging Congress and the Postal Board of Governors to reconsider the plan before it takes effect this summer.


The form letter is available on the Free Press website at action.freepress.net/campaign/postal.
 
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