Weeklies face major challenges with postal decision

Jan 2, 2013

By Alan Baker
Publisher | The Ellsworth American and The Mount Desert Islander
With a strong regional daily publishing 25 miles away in the next county, our two weeklies, The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, seldom carry a Valassis insert.
Weekly newspapers, on the other hand, face major challenges concerning dependable delivery out of state and, now, potentially serious delays in-state with the U.S. Postal Service’s proposed closing of processing and distribution Center facilities.
Here at The American and Islander, approximately half of our paid circulation is single-copy sales from racks in area retail stores. Subscriptions in-county, in-state and out-of-state account for about 40 percent of paid circulation. The remaining 10 percent are digital subscriptions.
We deliver about 6,000 papers, labeled, sorted, bundled and in tubs to the Ellsworth post office every Wednesday evening about 5 p.m. The 2,000 subscribers within a 20-mile radius served from the Ellsworth post office consistently receive excellent service, next-day delivery. The remaining 4,000 mail subscriptions are trucked Wednesday evening by the Postal Service to the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Center, 30 miles to the north. About 2,500 of the 4,000 are sorted that night and trucked back to the remaining in-county ZIP codes and the rest of the state early the next morning. Most Maine subscribers receive next-day delivery, but delays of a day or two are not uncommon.
For our remaining 1,500 out-of-state subscribers, it’s a crapshoot, as those of you with out-of-state subscribers already know so well. Papers may arrive the following Monday, a week after mailing, or two issues may arrive on the same day a couple of weeks later. No wonder our digital subscriptions are growing steadily.
The primary concern we share with other weekly newspapers all over the country is the announced Postal Service plan to close many processing and distribution centers.
Our Eastern Maine PDC is listed among those slated for closure, leaving only one PDC in Maine, 150 miles to the south in Portland. Were that to occur, about 4,000 of our papers then would be trucked Thursday to Portland for sorting, then 2,500 would be trucked back to Eastern Maine on Friday, for delivery on Saturday, three days later, obviously unacceptable. Forced to deliver directly to all 35 ZIP codes in-county and several in nearby counties, we would incur substantial additional expense.
The Valassis challenge and the proposed PDC closing could not have come at a worse time. The Senate committee responsible for overseeing the Postal Service is undergoing a complete change of leadership.
The chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-CT, has retired after serving four Senate terms. And Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-ME, having served the six years allowed as ranking member of the committee, now has left for other committee assignments.
The National Newspaper Association and the newspapers of Maine will miss the commitment and energy Collins has provided, challenging the Postal Service to address the quality of its service while reducing costs. Collins has been the congressional leader in voicing opposition to the elimination of Saturday service and the closing of PDCs.
In the challenging months ahead, with so many crucial decisions about to be taken, NNA Chief Executive Officer Tonda Rush and NNA Postal Committee Chair Max Heath need extra help from each of us to reach out to Congress. Please plan to attend the NNA leadership summit on March 14 in Washington. For more information on the summit, go to www.nna.org.