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A threat to independent publications

May 18, 2007 | Page 8

JULIE FAIN of Haymarket Books reports on how publishing giants are trying to manipulate a postal rate hike.

THE POSTAL Rate Commission has announced what could be a crushing blow to small magazine publishers: mailing rate hikes of up to 30 percent.

But the pain wouldn't be felt equally across the industry--the biggest publications would see the smallest increases. That's because the new rates were largely written by publishing giant Time Warner, which produces more than 100 magazines.

Last year, the post office proposed new rates that would have been shared evenly across all sizes of magazines--in itself, a disproportionate burden to smaller ones. But the giant publishers, with their teams of lawyers, lobbyists and insiders, prevailed in the next round.

Fortunately, independent publishers got to work denouncing the rate hikes and organizing other publishers to oppose them. The independent media group Free Press initiated a campaign to save small and independent publishers.

Bob McChesney, the founder of Free Press, pointed out that reduced rates for periodicals has a strong historic and democratic tradition. "This...revolves around America's very first and arguably most visionary and progressive media policy: postal rates for periodicals," McChesney wrote.

What you can do

To find out more, send a letter to the postal board or get involved in the campaign to stop the hikes, go to the Stamp Out the Rate Hikes Web site.

 

"Because the post office is a monopoly, and because magazines must use it, the postal rates always have been skewed to make it cheaper for smaller publications to get launched and to survive. The whole idea has been to use the postal rates to keep publishing as competitive and wide open as possible.

"This bedrock principle was put in place by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. They considered it mandatory to create the press system, the Fourth Estate necessary for self-government...It was postal policy that converted the free press clause in the First Amendment from an abstract principle into a living breathing reality for Americans."

Although the campaign has brought together strange bedfellows--the conservative Weekly Standard also faces huge increases--the case for stopping the rates is simple. Theresa Stack, publisher of the Nation, estimates that the magazine's postage costs could rise to $500,000, on top of what is already one of their largest budget items.

Increases like that will certainly force many smaller publications out of business entirely. That is a recipe for an even greater shrinking of independent and minority opinions and reporting. As the Boston Globe wrote in an editorial, headlined "Don't Stamp Out Brainy Mags," "Price protection has been crucial for small magazines, helping them to add politically and socially diverse voices to the public arena."

The idea of Time Warner et al having even more dominance in the "marketplace of ideas" should be a frightening thought to any proponent of democracy. Already, the lies of the political establishment go virtually unopposed, with small publications like the one you are reading trying hard to get alternative voices heard.

A final decision on the rates is due in July. If the media behemoths get there way on this, it will be another blow to the independence of the press.

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