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A leading expert on newspaper mailing and postal issues testified before a presidential commission recently that while community papers don't oppose the principle of negotiated agreements -- where mailers guarantee a specific number of pieces sent though the U.S. Postal Service and therefore receive discounts -- they do oppose volume-based discounts.

"We believe these are dangerous tools in a statutory monopoly and that they will undermine public faith in the Postal Service's ultimate mission of universal service," Max Heath testified before the President's Commission on the United States Postal Service on May 28. Heath is the vice president for circulation and postal affairs at Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. of Shelbyville, Ky., and is the chair of the postal committee of the National Newspaper Association (NNA).

Last year the Postal Service struck a Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) with Capital One Services Inc., the company that markets a variety of credit cards, including the CapitolOne ("What's in your wallet?"). Under this agreement, Capitol One says it will mail a minimum of 1.225 billion pieces of first class mail, garnering a discount on top of the discount it receives for delivering presorted first class letters that can be sent through automatic sorting equipment. Heath went on to express his concern that "a flood of requests from very large advertising mailers" would "irreparably damage the advertising markets that support the news we publish."

In addition to his concerns about volume discounts, Heath told the commission that he did not think that USPS plans to move carrier-route sorted mail from entry into the mail stream at local offices to central, automated plants would benefit publishers.

"What really frightens me is the notion that automated sorting may force newspapers to cease to handle their own carrier route, walk-sequenced sorting, and their own delivery to local units, and to send all of the mail, unsorted, upstream in a large mix for automated processing," Heath testified.

The Kentucky newspaper executive urged the commission to recommend that newspapers be allowed to continue to provide sorted mail to their local offices and that the USPS be directed to develop "effective sorting machinery" that can handle newspapers for papers that are mailed outside of their counties.

In addition, Heath told the commission that the Postal Service has a set of standard operating plans to handle periodical mail that, though efficient, have not been adopted at all USPS facilities.

Heath said that he doesn't understand why USPS senior management has been unable to require the use of the periodical standard operating plan (SOP). "But I strongly suspect that if it were uniformly put into place, a number of other problems would melt away including, I would hope, some of the costs that inevitably arise when SOPs are set aside, and loss of periodicals volume," he said.

While mail circulation is only a small part of a metropolitan daily's distribution, smaller dailies and weeklies depend almost exclusively on the Postal Service to get their newspapers to readers. The modern USPS has never particularly liked dealing with newspapers -- they're oversized -- and it is only through the efforts of executives like Heath that papers haven't been bumped down even lower on the USPS totem pole.
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 16, 2003

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