‘Affordable Mail Alliance’ of Publishers Forms to Fight USPS Hikes

By Steve Smith

From catalog makers to magazine publishers and direct mailers, the battle is now joined over the proposed rate increases for U.S. mail. American Media, Condé Nast, ESPN, Hearst, the Magazine Publishers Association, Publishers Clearing House and Time Inc. are among the companies that have formed the Affordable Mail Alliance this week. The group is trying to appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission to reject the United States Postal Service’s request for substantial increases in the mailing rates both for standard postage and bulk and magazine rates.

The new coalition is not mincing words in its disdain for the USPS proposal. In its inaugural statement, the group questioned USPS’ sincerity in asking for the increase to remain solvent, given the service’s lack of resolve in cutting its own costs. “USPS has done little to improve its business model,” the alliance said in a statement. “For example, the average USPS employee is paid substantially more than comparable private sector jobs. In 2009, USPS volume went down 13%, but labor costs only went down 1%. Because of workforce issues, many USPS employees are underused or sit idly, forcing consumers to subsidize them.”

The alliance says that increasing rates will only drive customers away from the mail service and further undermine the economics of the service. “They should be making the hard business decisions and not raising rates,” says Jerry Cerasale, Affordable Mail Alliance spokesperson and SVP, government affairs, for the Direct Marketing Association.

The Affordable Mail Alliance has launched a Web site to broadcast its perspectives at AffordableMailAlliance.org. Visitors are urged to call Ruth Goldway, chairperson of the Postal Regulatory Commission, to voice their opinion.

The site offers FAQs and articles mostly denying USPS claims of cost-cutting, workforce trimming and the reasonableness of rate increases. The full list of allied organizations and companies is available at the site.

In a public announcement yesterday, the USPS said it was proposing to raise the first-class stamp rate 2 cents, to 46 cents, in 2011. Catalog pricing would increase more than 5% and magazine rates could go up 8%. The USPS claims it is running at a $7 billion shortfall.