Deconstructing: How The USPS Is Killing Indie
Jan 30th '13 by James Jackson Toth @ 12:14pm
There is a great episode of Seinfeld
in which Kramer, fed up with receiving junk mail, decides to permanently suspend his mail service. Mailman Newman attempts to convince Kramer to reconsider by offering a series of hypotheticals — What about bills? What about cards and letters? — each of which Kramer dismisses with sound logic. Newman is eventually forced to concede that physical mail is unnecessary. “Of course nobody needs
mail!” he finally blurts out, daunted. It’s a very funny scene that makes a pretty compelling case for not needing the USPS.
But Newman was wrong. In fact, a good portion of USPS’s 7 million daily customers own businesses that rely almost exclusively on the troubled agency. And Monday’s dramatic rate increase has the potential to cripple or hamper greatly the livelihood of some of those most loyal and dependent customers. Chief among these are bands and independent labels with international customers, for whom the USPS provides a lifeline that no laptop, fax machine, or smartphone can provide.
First, the good news: the changes in Domestic shipping rates are relatively minimal. According to the official Domestic and International Shipping Price Change breakdown
on the USPS’s official website, Express Mail has increased 5.8%, Priority Mail 6.3%, Parcel Select 9% and First Class 3%. This is cause for mild concern, but such a hike is not unreasonable, given the post office’s highly publicized financial woes (more on that later). Even Media Mail, beloved by everyone from fanzine editors to high profile indie labels, will not be greatly affected by the hike.
International mail is a different story. Published prices for all retail international Shipping Services –- Global Express Guaranteed (GXG), Express Mail International (EMI), Priority Mail International (PMI), and Airmail M-Bags -– show an average increase of 14.5 percent (with many services increasing far above that figure). Many small labels and artists ship as much as half of their stock to fans overseas, and this sharp rate increase is the highest since most of those labels began operating.
It would be delusional, paranoid, and self-centered to consider this hike part of some vast elaborate conspiracy to expedite the demise of independent media as we know it, and I will leave such theories to the bunkered-down folks stockpiling canned goods. But this rate increase could very well prove to be the final nail in the coffin of labels already struggling with sales lost to streaming services, media saturation, and piracy.
Since 2000, Cory Rayborn has run the popular underground label Three Lobed, releasing albums by Bardo Pond, Jack Rose, Magik Markers, and Rachel’s, among others. Like many of the bands on his roster, Three Lobed is as popular in European territories as here at home. A one-man operation with a single intern, Three Lobed is already feeling the effects of the hike.
“I have a title due out in February that I felt sure I could have shipped prior to the rate shift,” says Rayborn. “As such, the price I charged folks for pre-orders internationally was at the old rate. As fate would have it, the title ran a little bit late and I’ll be left shipping at the new prices now and will end up taking a hit out of projected revenue from those copies sold of about $400.