Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More bad news for print publications

NPR's Morning Edition has carried a story about another blow to traditional print publications. This time, though, no one's blaming the Internet, since the problem originates with the United States Postal Service.

Postal rates for magazines are scheduled to rise on July 15, an average of 13%, but the increases will not be uniform. Because they're not automated to USPS standards, small magazines like the American Poetry Review will see a steeper hike (20% or higher) than the big titles like Time, which may see increases of less than 10%.

To the editors of the small magazines, the inequities seem both unjust and suspicious.

NPR interviewed Teresa Stack of The Nation and Jack Fowler of the National Review, publications on opposites sides of the political divide that are nevertheless united in criticism of the USPS policy that will cause enormous increases in mailing costs.

"For a small magazine, $100,000 is a major amount of money. Opinion journals, because they are opinion journals, are often kryptonite to potential advertisers. Therefore, we are much more dependent on lower postal rates than the big boys."

The big boys in this case are the magazines published by media giants like Time Warner. Professor Robert McChesney (University of Illinois-Champaign) believes, in fact, that Time Warner was one of the architects of the new rate policy, which in effect eliminates a "periodical subsidy" that's been in effect since the beginning of the postal service.

That subsidy was created in the first place because "the founding fathers wanted to subsidize the delivery of newspapers and magazines," in the belief (as McChesney says) "that self-government requires a diverse and vibrant press. And the genius of the postal subsidy then, as now, is that it doesn't favor a particular viewpoint. It doesn't allow the government to pick which magazine gets it and which doesn't."

One might argue, as the USPS and Time Warner do, that this is no attempt to undermine a free and vibrant press, in order to favor corporate media. It may be true that this is simply a case of economic concerns trumping the needs of a democratic society, which is perhaps an even sadder interpretation of the situation.

In either case, corporate media continues to grow, and the independent press is further diminished.

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