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'NCR' to go biweekly.

Courtesy of the preposterously unfair postal-rate hike, which will cost NCR an additional $95,000 annually. They're going to publish twenty-four times a year, and increase the page count of each issue. I can't find any announcements online yet, but below is a scan of the letter they sent to subscribers. These postal rates cannot stand. (For more on the USPS, check out the most recent episode of NPR's Justice Talking, in which Commonweal features.)

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Got my letter today.

Once again, a periodical complaining about a raise in postage does not explain the actual per-copy cost of mailing the periodical within the U.S.

Not sure what you mean. How would a complaint explain the postal rate increase? The increase is explained by the fact that Time Warner more or less wrote the new policy, which favors larger publications and penalizes smaller ones--such as Commonweal.

Sorry. I used too broad a verb, "explain." In complaining about a postal rate increase, a periodical ought disclose (tell, report) the per-copy price it is paying for postage. I pay 41 cents to mail a one-ounce letter within the United States. Typically, when periodical rates are increased, the magazines complain about the increase in terms of their total bill or the percent increase, but a disclosure of what they pay per copy mailed would be more meaningful. If Commonweal pays $1 to mail me my copy 22 times a year, then I would know that $22 of the subscription cost goes to the USPS. If Commonweal mails (let's say) 10,000 individual copies within the US and the postal bill is $10,000, then I would know that the per-copy cost is $1. If Commonweal pays a reduced rate on shipping bulk subscriptions to colleges or chanceries, that could be disclosed separately. When increases are given as percentages, the per-copy cost in dollars or cents is not disclosed.Thank you. Joe McMahon

That isn't my area, but I'm still confused as to how that would help you. The aggregate cost increases still affect the magazine's bottom line, which is what's taking a toll.

I'm one of the people familiar with Commonweal's postal situation. I can tell you that a lot of variables go into the per-copy postal rate for any given copy we mail -- distance from the printing plant, the size of the issue, even the amount of advertising in the issue. Overall, however, the most recent increase means an average annual increase for each subscriber of nearly $2. I know that doesn't sound like much, but given a very small budget, we have to find it somewhere. We could try to recover it by raising the subscription price up over $50/year (it's $49 currently of course), and someday we'll probably have to, but frankly right now we're worried that could lose us more than it would gain us, since subscribers might resist a higher price. NCR, of course, was in an even more dramatic bind, since they mail a publication twice as often per subscriber as we do. And as Grant points out, small publications like your favorite magazine just can't qualify for a number of the discounts and "mailing efficiencies" that Time Warner (which conveniently wrote the new rate structure) can.

Just so I understand the debate, are the smaller magazines arguing that they are paying more than their fair share of the USPS costs as a result of this new plan and the large magazines aren't? Or, is the smaller magazines' position that all magazine's should pay the same whether the large publications' costs are lower or not (effectively subsidizing the smaller ones) as a matter of public policy - i.e. diversity of thought and debate etc.?

Sean, Click the first link in my post. Then Google 'National Review' + 'postal rate increase.'

Grant,I did look at that link, and my surmise is that it is the latter rather than the former even though they don't say that directly.A concern I would have is that part of the reason large scale mailers get discounts is that they actually do some of the USPS's work for them by palleting and presorting etc. If they can't reap the benefits of that effort, why would they consider doing it, or more importantly, come up with newer and better methods. If that happens, everyone's rates may go up.

The large publishers do get discounts for doing a significant amount of mail preparation before the USPS gets the mail. And they should -- big customers should get discounts. I think the issue is whether smaller publishers can absorb postal increases (not just this most recent one) that have ended up being much higher than either inflation or their subscribers' ability to pay. Mailing rates for all periodicals (not just little ones) have historically been low as a matter of public policy. Now we're seeing smaller publications face higher effective price increases than larger ones -- completely logical if the USPS is only a business, I guess, but theoretically the USPS still has some public role.

Tom, thank you for mentioning "public policy." We need to see the USPS as not just a profit-making govt enterprise but as a necessary mainstay to the free flow of ideas. This discussion reminds me of the ongoing debate about big corporate media owning virtually all the communications businesses in town: newspapers, radio, tv.Congress needs to understand what's at stake here, namely, protection of diversity of thought in the public square.I don't want to sound paranoid, but.........

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