Royal Mail proposals cause for newspaper concern

Regional editors have voiced their concerns about Royal Mail proposals to withdraw preferential postage rates for newspapers subscriptions.

The Royal Mail has announced plans to cut the Newspaper Registration Service, which allows papers to access first-class services for second-class rates. It claims it makes a loss on items posted under the scheme and says the service no longer fits with the Royal Mail’s commercial aims.

Paul Robertson, editor of Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle, which sends out about 500 copies each week, said that although the withdrawal wouldn’t have a material impact on the paper, it was still a concern. “It would be yet another barrier that we face to get our product to the market. We’ve got the row that goes on with wholesalers, we’ve got pressure coming from supermarkets. It will make it an even more difficult market place than it already is.”

Established in the mid 1800s, the scheme aimed to improve literacy and freedom of expression in the UK. The Royal Mail maintains that alternative means of distribution and access to the internet render the “good citizenship” justification behind the service irrelevant. It has suggested that more commercially appropriate methods are available.

Robertson added: “We’re in a period of high cost and we’d have to look at it seriously because obviously it would be extremely costly, and what guarantees would we have with delivery?” John Barton, newspaper sales manager at the Barnsley Chronicle, which sends out 200 copies a week, said that potential costs would have an impact on the paper’s distribution. “It would cost us around £70 a week. What we’d probably have to do is pay to send them out to subscribers first class, and those that don’t pay, such as companies will have to get them by second class. We’d have to look at our systems in general if it was withdrawn.”

The Newspaper Society, which is looking at the potential impact of the proposals, has received assurances from the Royal Mail that it will not cut the service without consulting NS members, and any subsequent actions will depend on the outcome of the discussion.

The proposals come in the wake of the Royal Mail’s plans to introduce size-based pricing, which if implemented could lead to magazine closures due to the increased cost of mail distribution.

By Sarah Boden

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