Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: Stamp of Disapproval

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: Stamp of Disapproval

Article excerpt

One alternative business model for newspapers that's floating around on the fringe of the industry these days is a return to government subsidies.

Back in the days when Benjamin Franklin was postmaster general -- and, among his many talents, also publisher of The Philadelphia Gazette -- the Post Office delivered newspapers practically for free, encouraging the rapid growth of the nation's free press. By one estimate, in 1794 newspapers accounted for 70% of the weight of mail delivered, but just 3% of postal revenue. Implementing something along those lines today could bring a new golden age of newspapers, the argument goes.

But it becomes clearer every year that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has its own idea of how newspapers and subsidies go together: Newspapers should subsidize direct mailers. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these single-minded bureaucrats from devising new ways to ease the burden on direct mailers while shifting costs to newspapers.

There was, for instance, the USPS proposal in 2003 to provide essentially first-class service at a huge discount to a single big junk mailer, the credit card purveyor Capital One. Last year, these bureaucrats tried to steer newspaper TMC and SMC (total market coverage and select market coverage) packages to distant delivery sites to be sorted by untested equipment, while allowing the Red Plum saturation mailers of the world to pay discounted rates at convenient and reliable locations.

For the past two years, the Postal Service has been allowed to set rates within price caps that limit increases to the Consumer Price Index, which for this year's purposes would be 3. …

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