Publishers, DMA take postal reform to public

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Publishers and direct marketers are outraged over proposed postal rate increases, raising a war cry to consumers and the U.S. Congress and advocating postal reform.

The Direct Marketing Association was angry enough to pass a resolution of no confidence in the postal service last week in the face of proposed average 7% hikes in commercial mail rates.

But the Magazine Publishers of America board went a step further, unanimously approving plans for an unprecedented $10 million, three-year campaign to take the issue directly to consumers.

RAISING AWARENESS

"It's now becoming more and more obvious that unless there is some reform of the post office or a change in the current system . . . the postal service will get into deeper and deeper trouble," said Robert Edmund, president-CEO of Edmund Scientific Co. and a DMA board member. "The answer is to get Congress reinterested in postal reform. The problem with that is there's not a lot of public sentiment encouraging them to do so."

To raise that awareness, "[The MPA] will use the pages of our magazines as well as work with high-powered lobbyists and public relations officials in Washington," said Nina Link, MPA president-CEO. "We're going to be very visible and in an attack mode."

Although both groups have loudly opposed rate hikes in the past, they are raising the rhetoric following the proposed rate chart filed with the Postal Rate Commission Jan. 11. The chart shows increases for some classes of commercial mail -- including periodicals -- that range from 12% to 15%.

`NOT ANOTHER RATE CASE'

The suggested changes will be heard by the commission within 10 months.

"At the MPA we have decided we're going to make this not just another rate case fight," said Christopher Little, president of Meredith Publishing Group and chairman of the MPA's Government Affairs Council. "The proposed rate changes affect many, many mailers and their consumers."

One mailer group impacted is the Newspaper Association of America. The group's president, John Sturm, said newspapers will ante up 9% more under the rate hike proposal and called it "a very steep price to pay."

DMA President Robert Wientzen said the higher-than-inflation rate increases led him to believe the time is right to garner support for postal reform.

"The key issue here is the fact that the economy is roaring and most businesses are finding that this is a time when you can and should be doing well, and the post office is -- in spite of the threat of e-commerce lowering mail volume -- raising prices," said Mr. Wientzen. His group's members account for $5 billion of U.S. commercial mail a year.

The postal service did not return calls for comment by press time.

RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS

The public traditionally pays little attention to postal rates, save for the cost of a first-class stamp. Under the proposal, first-class mail would rise only 3%. A notice on the postal service's Web site (usps.gov) discussing the proposed rate changes mentions only the 1› first-class stamp increase.

But the MPA hopes public opinion will change through its campaign.

"What we've got to do is raise the level of awareness," said Jonathan Ward, DMA chairman and president-CEO of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., the country's largest periodical and catalog mailer. "We've got to become more vocal. We've tried just working on the edges, but this [increase] is unsustainable."

Contributing: Ira Teinowitz

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