AAN, City Newspaper Settle with USPS

Agreement clarifies 'New Times Rule'

The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and WMT Publications, Rochester, NY, today announced settlement of a three-year-litigation with the United States Postal Service (USPS) over the rules for alternative newspapers in the mail.

The case clarified a 15-year-old, unwritten procedure used by USPS to grant periodical “requester” mailing permits to free-distribution alternative newspapers with strong readership and distribution bases, but no individual reader subscriber lists. The procedure, known as the New Times Rule, resulted from an earlier settlement between USPS the New Times group of newspapers. It permits publications distributed to regular readers via newsracks and retail outlets to demonstrate through readership surveys that the publications are in demand and therefore eligible to receive a periodical permit.

WMT Publications’ Publishers Bill and Mary Anna Towler have disputed the current USPS interpretation of the New Times Rule since 1993, claiming that the rule has been applied unfairly and inconsistently, discriminating against some newspapers with a verifiable readership base. In an appeal filed with the USPS Administrative Judicial Officer, WMT asked to have the USPS interpretation set aside.

AAN Executive Director Richard Karpel said the association supported WMT’s efforts so that its members would have fair access to the mails.

“Periodical mailing permits are available to paid-circulation newspapers and to free publications that can demonstrate their readership through requesters’ cards. The Postal Service has permitted readership surveys in lieu of the cards for over a decade, but it refuses to publish procedures or to make reasonable rules accessible to applicants,” Karpel said. “By forcing the issue, the Towlers have gotten at least some reasonable clarification, and also established a readership survey process that most of our members can use.”

WMT’s City Newspaper will embark upon a readership survey later this spring. If the survey demonstrates that at least 3 of 5 issues are read by more than half of the paper’s distribution targets, USPS will be required to grant the permit. WMT will be permitted to test the readership through in-paper surveys and to provide some incentive for return of the surveys.

Bill Towler said he was amazed that it took litigation to force the issue to the fore.

“With the Postal Service hemorrhaging money these days, you’d think it would be looking for ways to make the mail easier to use, not harder,” he said. “At the same time, protecting the integrity of periodicals mailstream usage is important and should be preserved for legitimate newspapers and magazines, not shoppers and such. We appreciated the Postal Service’s willingness to meet us halfway in clarifying the rules. It was a struggle, but in the end, we were convinced that they do want our business and we hope to encourage more alternative newspapers to check out the mail as a new way of reaching subscribers.”

The agreement will soon be available to AAN members in the “Business of Publishing” section of the aan.org Web site.

The matter was handled for WMT and AAN by Tonda Rush, of counsel to King & Ballow.