Postal Shakedown

How rate hikes threaten the free press


| April 26, 2007


Every year, devotees of the independent press lament the death of another worthy publication. This year, we may be mourning an outright slaughter.

On March 19, the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service approved a plan to raise postal rates across the country. The change will disproportionately raise rates for small and independent publications -- many of which are barely scrapping by in the first place -- and leave large publications relatively unscathed. Peter Rothberg, blogging for the Nation, estimates that the cost of distributing the Nation will skyrocket $500,000 annually. And the outlooks for smaller publications are equally grim. As Timothy Karr of the Free Press writes, the new rate hikes 'put diverse and free speech in America at risk.'

The driving force behind the new rate hikes, according to the editor in chief of the Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, is the media conglomerate Time Warner. In an interview with Democracy Now!, vanden Heuvel cites internal documents from the Post Office Board of Governors in which the board recommends 'a rate structure proposed by Time Warner, Inc' -- publisher of such massive titles as People and Time. The idea, according to vanden Heuvel, is for Time Warner to secure beneficial rates by 'dictat[ing] what the postal rates will be in this country.'

An unlikely alliance has emerged to combat the planned hikes. Progressive publications including the American Prospect and In These Times have signed a letter with conservative publications such as the American Conservative and the National Review calling upon the Board of Governors to revoke or delay the increases. A copy of that letter can be read at the Free Press website(pdf).

According to the letter, small publications serve 'a vital function in American politics and culture.' (They're also the backbone of the Utne Reader: Most of the 1,200 publications in our library are small magazines that will be disproportionately affected by these rate increases.) The hikes are not set to go into effect until July 15. Until then, Free Press has created a website where individuals and publications can take action by contacting Congress and speaking out against the plan.

Go there >> Stamp Out the Rate Hikes