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Residents of Cleveland will soon be receiving mailed bundles of now-expired coupon inserts and pre-Christmas ad circulars. And Postal Service critics say it could get much worse, for people who actually look forward to receiving unexpired ads and coupons in the mail.

Two newspaper industry groups have signed on to a legal challenge of an order that could send postal rates for marketing mail skyrocketing, and could affect the ability of insert publishers and retailers to send coupons and circulars through the mail at all.

The News Media Alliance and the National Newspaper Association, which together represent thousands of local newspapers across the country, have announced that they’re joining a lawsuit filed by other industry groups, including the Association of Magazine Media, the Major Mailers Association and the American Catalog Mailers Association. They’re all suing to force a review of a Postal Regulatory Commission order that they say would pose an “existential threat to newspapers,” circulars, ads, coupons and other marketing material.

The PRC decided late last year to remove an annual cap on postal rate increases, which have averaged about 2% a year. Under the new rules, the News Media Alliance says postage rates for newspapers could soar by as much as 9% a year, while rates for marketing mailers like ads and coupon inserts could climb by 7%.

“The final rules are plainly designed to increase postal revenues,” the plaintiffs complain. Companies that rely on modest, routine and predictable annual rate hikes “will suffer devastating harm to their businesses and organizations,” they argue, causing many to “cut circulation frequency (or leave the print market altogether)” and others to “curtail marketing campaigns and consumer services.”

In short, steep rate hikes could make it cost-prohibitive for many publishers to send coupons and circulars through the mail at all anymore.

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Some might be grateful to have less junk mail stuffed into their mailboxes. But for others who don’t regularly receive coupon inserts and store circulars in their Sunday newspaper, receiving them by mail is the only way to get them at all. Still others might receive these marketing materials inside a mailed weekly community newspaper. But even those could be imperiled by the new rates.

The policy change comes at “the worst possible time” for the already struggling newspaper industry, the News Media Alliance said in a statement. “Rate changes of this magnitude would be unsustainable for newspapers and could force small market and community newspapers to close their doors.” The groups’ complaint also pointedly notes that the changes come “at a time when the Postal Service is already having well-documented difficulties meeting its service requirements.”

Among those difficulties, is getting coupons and store circulars to Cleveland residents in anything close to a timely manner. Several local news organizations in Cleveland and Pittsburgh have reported this week that nearly a million pieces of marketing mail have been sitting at the main post office in Pittsburgh for weeks. Postal Service representatives explained that unprecedented holiday season demand, and pandemic-related staffing shortages, caused major backlogs in the system. So deliveries of first-class mail and packages were prioritized, while marketing mail destined for Cleveland was diverted to the Pittsburgh facility until the backlog can be fully cleared.

It’s not known whether other communities have been similarly affected. If you usually get coupon inserts and store circulars in the mail, but haven’t lately, your community might be facing a similar backlog – especially if those weeks-old mailers suddenly start showing up in your mailbox in the days and weeks to come.

It may not seem like a good time, then, to be raising rates, when the Postal Service can’t even deliver all the marketing mail that’s already been paid for. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that the rate changes would cause “significant and irreparable harm” to senders and recipients alike.

So keep an eye on your mailbox as this dispute plays out. The resolution – or lack thereof – could determine whether you get your coupons and circulars as normal, a few weeks late – or not at all.

Image source: Valassis

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