Correction to This Article
A June 2 article by the Religion News Service incorrectly attributed two quotes to U.S. Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer. The comments were made by Tony Conway, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers.

Postal Costs Hit Church Magazines

By Philip Turner
Religion News Service
Saturday, June 2, 2007

Last month, the cost of mailing a letter rose 2 cents, to 41 cents for first class. That's an increase of more than 5 percent, a cost many Americans chalk up to the price of doing business.

But on July 15, religious-oriented publications will face increases of at least 11 percent, and some as high as 20 percent or more. That's a cost many small magazines say could put them out of business.

"There will be church publications that close, publications that will have to become monthly or quarterly," said Bob Terry, editor and president of the Birmingham-based Alabama Baptist newspaper. "We're nickel and diming already, and now I'm going to have to come up with $100,000 more per year for postal costs."

In short, Terry said, the picture doesn't look good -- a sentiment shared by many at the recent Associated Church Press convention in Orlando, where Terry gave an update on the rate increases.

"If we cut back on our mailings, we're sowing the seeds for our own destruction because we've cut off our communication with congregants," Terry said.

The Postal Regulatory Commission determined in March that small religious publications and other nonprofit organizations that do mass mailings have had it too easy. Although they've paid some of the costs of their mail, the balance has been subsidized.

Postal distribution and other institutional costs have been covered largely by big publications such as Time magazine. Time Inc. executives first raised concerns in 1998 when they realized how high mailing rates were across the board despite their attempts to distribute their mail efficiently.

Major periodicals such as Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated have experts and departments devoted to sorting and preparing their mailings efficiently. That allows them to cut their postage costs and take advantage of the discounts available for mass mailers.

Smaller publications, such as the Alabama Baptist, have volunteers who prep their mail. For years, they've been putting the newspapers in mail bags and sending them to post offices for sorting and distribution. Industry officials say that's the most inefficient and costly method of mailing because it requires extra manpower at post offices. Furthermore, many church periodicals are too small in circulation to take advantage of rate discounts for mass mailings.

Jim O'Brien, director of distribution and postal affairs at Time Inc., said major periodicals shouldn't have to front the costs for inefficient mailers, nor can they continue to afford it.

"We as an industry have to do something about our mailing costs, or we're all going to be out of business," O'Brien said. "The difference with the new rate is that everyone is going to have to pay for what they use."

The U.S. Postal Service doesn't want to force anyone out of business, spokesman David Partenheimer said, but small publications "have been getting a sweet deal" for a long time, he said.

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