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Critics: Postal Service plans imperil community newspapers

ap photo In this Feb. 24 photo, U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The U.S. Postal Service’s plans to raise postage rates could present another damaging blow to community newspapers already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Postal Service’s plan to raise mailing rates could present one more damaging blow to community newspapers already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and advertising declines, a trade group says.

Rates on periodicals would increase by more than 8% as of Aug. 29, according to agency filings. The price jump is part of a broad plan pushed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to overhaul mail operations.

The impact of the periodical rate increase is expected to be felt most by small daily and weekly newspapers, as well as rural newspapers, which depend on the Postal Service since they have shifted from using independent contractors for deliveries.

In response, publishers potentially could be forced to further reduce staff or forgo home deliveries entirely and instead send papers to communal news racks, or even shutter their papers, said Paul Boyle, senior vice president at the News Media Alliance, a trade association representing nearly 2,000 news organizations in the U.S.

“It is one of several nicks and slashes that can damage the bottom line, especially if you are an independent publisher who is operating at break even or in the low single digits of profitability. And most are,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a Northwestern University professor who has extensively studied the decline of the news industry.

For some, it could be the tipping point for survivability, Boyle said.

The News Media Alliance, in comments opposing the rate increases, told the independent Postal Regulatory Commission that the plans “ultimately harm the public interest while doing little to improve the Postal Service’s financial condition.”

In a statement, Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said the agency’s leaders are “committed to judiciously implementing a rational pricing approach that helps enable us to remain viable and competitive and offer reliable postal services that are among the most affordable in the world.”

“While the price newspapers pay varies based on how they prepare and enter their papers into our system, the average proposed price increase for newspapers for local delivery is from 10.6 cents to 11.4 cents or 0.8 cent, less than one cent,” he said.

The newspaper industry has struggled greatly over the past two decades. Advertising has dried up due to the internet and readership has fallen. More than 2,100 newspapers in the United States have closed in the past 15 years, the majority of them weeklies that serve local communities, according to research by the University of North Carolina.

In the same period, regular newspaper readership has fallen by one-half, the researchers said.

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