Deconstructing: How The USPS Is Killing Indie

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.

“There’s no way these new rates don’t seriously cut down on my international sales,” says Rayborn. “The rate increases are basically 50% on Canadian and ROW [rest of the world] packages. That’s going to be a significant addition for some folks and I expect that folks may think twice about placing an order, especially when in some cases the price of the shipping will exceed the price of the LP being purchased.”

Temporary Residence is a Brooklyn-based label run by Jeremy DeVine. Artists as diverse as Three Mile Pilot, the Books, and William Basinski have all called the label home over its near-20-year existence. DeVine, too, expects to lose customers. “We’ve tried to keep the prices of our products as low as possible to compensate for the fact that shipping rates keep increasing,” says Devine, “but we will inevitably lose some customers as the shipping costs become prohibitive for some folks.” Far from feeling blindsided by the hike, the veteran label boss admits he saw it coming. “It’s very disappointing,” says DeVine, “but the USPS is hemorrhaging money … so I’m not particularly shocked at any of this,” he says.

John Whitson, who has operated the taste-making psych label Holy Mountain label since 1992, releasing albums by Wooden Shjips, Six Organs Of Admittance, and Om, is similarly trying to roll with the punches. “It’s unfortunate the prices aren’t raised incrementally each year so things like this aren’t such a shock to the system,”he says, “but so few people understand the value of the service the post office provides to small businesses and record labels in particular.”

It’s not only labels being affected. For many artists with small but loyal fanbases, the ability to sell physical media to international collectors is often the difference between eking out a living and having an expensive hobby. Kevin De Broux has been making visceral drone punk under the name Pink Reason since 2007, releasing acclaimed albums on legendary labels like Siltbreeze as well as on his own Savage Quality Recordings label. “I do close to half of my sales overseas,” he says, “and I predict this will eliminate up to a third of my sales.”

But the short-term effects are nothing compared to the long-term ramifications. “My customers are foreign, not rich,” says De Broux. “If they can’t afford to buy my records, I can’t afford to make more. It’s simple economics.” Rayborn agrees: “It’s also not like a lot of the European folks making orders have great economic situations in their home countries.”

So why the increase? Many blame Congress’s 2006 provision in the USPS contract stipulating that they subsidize pension retirement accounts and healthcare benefits upfront for 70 years. The mandate –- which applies to no other federal agency –- has been the biggest blow in a series of acts by the US House of Representatives and the Senate to undermine the USPS. The provision gives the already ravaged USPS a mere decade to fully pre-fund the benefits of even future employees, some of whom will not even be born until 2058. The provision’s purpose seems transparent enough: to topple a public sector union and privatize mail delivery. In a plot-thickening move that will no doubt cramp the newsletter-writing hands of conspiracy theorists nationwide, UPS and Fed Ex –- both private corporations and the USPS’s biggest competitors –- have both lobbied hard for the provision. Both companies are among the biggest campaign contributors in the United States. Not surprisingly, when it comes to writing checks, both Fed Ex and UPS seem to skew politically to the right: Both contributed the maximum $250,000 to sponsor the second inauguration of George W. Bush, who presided over the 2006 provision. It is ironic that many of the political factions who espouse fundamental Constitutionalism where things like private gun ownership are concerned are the same ones doing everything they can to hobble one of the only government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution.

An online petition urging Congress to repeal the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2013 blames Congress for the USPS’s current economic struggles, reasonably pointing out the unfairness of asking the USPS to fund seven decades of benefits, while no other government agency or private company faces such an unachievable task. At the time of this writing, the petition still required more than 23,000 signatures of its goal of 25,000 by February 4th.

In a prescient Esquire piece in December of 2011, Charles P. Pierce wrote “This whole crisis could still be avoided if Congress would recalculate the pension money in a more reasonable way.” De Broux agrees. “This isn’t the USPS itself doing this,” he says. “This is corporate interests and conservatives behind these moves, and their intention is to cripple the USPS. I assure you, the workers at USPS don’t want an unsustainable business model that will result in the eventual loss of their careers.”

With a reported 8.3 billion dollar budget deficit and losses of $25 million a day on average, the USPS had little choice but to raise their rates. According to the USPS website, the Postal Regulatory Commission reviews the price adjustments before they become effective, and by law, each product must cover its attributable costs. But even this increase might just prove a spit into the ocean, postponing the inevitable end of the centuries-old federal institution that currently employs over 570,000 Americans, making it the third largest civilian workforce in the United States behind the federal government and, um, Walmart.

The music industry is merely one potential casualty resulting from this provision, as the rate increase will affect most companies doing international business of any kind. But the change in the ability to get music to fans will likely provide a rapid acceleration of the already imminent death of physical media, as even diehard record collectors will find they are simply financially unable to sustain the artists and labels they love. Boutique American labels like Three Lobed, Temporary Residence and Holy Mountain, to name just three of hundreds of examples, offer high quality music and vinyl, special editions and elaborate packaging as a way to maintain brand loyalty during a time in which the acquisition of music through illegal means has never been easier or more seductive. It cannot be overstated that these increased international shipping charges will make it even more difficult to do business in what is already a hopelessly fragile independent music economy.

Maybe Newman was right after all; maybe no one needs record labels and mail order distributors, either. But it’s difficult to imagine a thriving underground music community without them, or the independent artists that rely on them to distribute music that may not be commercially viable enough to be licensed for use in a television program, blockbuster movie, or halftime show. With the USPS poised to go the way of the Pony Express, it seems grimly inevitable that many artists and labels will have no choice but to go down with the proverbial ship.

 
Comments (64)
  1. All I know is that they ruined Christmas for me. I ordered my girlfriend a little Dr. Who booklight. I didn’t have a whole lot of money this year, and I wanted to get her something cool that she would use quite a bit. But the damn USPS lost it in the mail. I’ve tried to contact them at least 5 times and I haven’t heard a single reply. Now I’m out about 20 dollars that I could have used to buy her something else. Damn you…

  2. I understand the USPS issues are fascinating and kind of a clusterfuck, but it seems like a big stretch to relate them to “indie music.”

    Is shipping really that important for Indie music labels to succeed? And how can the internet not be mentioned at all in this article? Also what about competition from UPS and Fed Ex? Have their international rates gone up, too?

    • Good questions, but I think a lot of the smaller indie labels out there (and not talking about the Matadors or Merges of the world) have one thing keeping them going, and that’s a loyal, niche market of physical purchases. Aside from Temporary Residence, and no offense to the other labels mentioned above, but their releases probably aren’t hotly coveted leaked album fodder. They probably have a better handle on keeping their albums off the Internet until the release date, hence why their customers still buy their releases physically.

    • When I didn’t live near a record store, I almost exclusively ordered all of my records directly from labels. I still do when I don’t find something at a store, and I know plenty of other people who do the same. I’m sure there are plenty more people not living in an urban area (where record stores tend to be) who listen to indie music that do the same. So yeah, I’d say it’s not much of a stretch to assume that shipping is really important for indie labels to succeed. But you bring up good points about the internet, UPS, and Fed Ex.

      • Man, I admit I posted this before I read the article. Not super relevant. Independent record stores would obviously be hit harder by higher shipping rates than lil ol’ me.

    • Just read a similar article on NPR about this, and they used shipping Fugazi albums internationally, and how the shipping cost had gone up from about $13 to $18 on an $11 album. Part of what I derived from this point is that USPS is still cheaper than UPS/FedEx when the package weight starts to go up.

      So under the assumption USPS is still the least expensive route to go, bumping the price up a bit when shipping a little bit heavier items (a vinyl weighs a bit more than a couple of sheets of paper in an envelope), that extrapolates to a pretty big relative burden on the smaller record labels, who may or may not want to push that cost on the consumer, in order to incentivize buying directly from the label.

      A little anecdote. I had to return a $75 bike part to the UK a few months ago. Weighing at about 1 pound, UPS told me it would cost $80 to ship, USPS did it for $18, albeit at a slower delivery rate.

      Not sure if that addressed your comment or not, but I think it kept relevant.

    • I address all of this in the article, including the internet. Fed Ex and UPS are in no position to raise rates – from all appearances, they’re doing fine (see: campaign contributions). Not to seem paranoid, but if they’re planning to raise their rates at all, they’ll do so only after they’ve eliminated the competition – the USPS – which is why they’re behind Congress’ ludicrous provision in the first place. Once they become the only game(s) in town, welcome to a world $6 postcard stamps.

      Is shipping really that important for indie labels to succeed? Without question, yes. Ask any label owner from the power electronics cassette label all the way up to Sub Pop. Yes.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • Did you not read the article? The USPS is not the same as welfare – it makes a profit. Their problem is the immense burden put on them by Republicans in 2006 – a financial burden most private companies do not pay ahead themselves for. Please… read the article again – a little slower this time. Or just do the most cursory amount of research on the USPS besides listening to Fox News talk about it.

        • According to the USPS, even before factoring in that unfair accounting rule enacted in 2006, it hasn’t made a profit for fiscal years 2009-2011, and isn’t likely to make an annual profit anytime soon unless some serious changes are made (besides changing that unfair accounting rule). See slide 3 of this business plan: http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2012/pr12_0217profitability.pdf. According to this business plan, it’s going to be operating at loss (regardless of the accounting rule) unless it raises prices (among other things). See slide 13 under “Revenue Management” — in particular, see the part where it says “Targeted price increases — Historically inelastic single-piece First-Class Mail.” That means the postal service wants to raise prices on shipments of stuff like records regardless of the unfair accounting rule enacted in 2006.

          But you’re right, USPS has been doing better than I thought.

          • I guess we should then ask a bigger question – is it necessary that the USPS even MAKES a profit? Isn’t it a public service, guaranteed by the Constitution? There are plenty of things funded by tax dollars (which, by the way, the USPS is not) that don’t turn any profit at all. Maybe we need to examine the profit = worth model, since we’re on a forum that deals with a lot of music that 99% of the western world doesn’t know or care exists.

          • I agree it’s worth questioning the profit = worth model when it comes to indie music and many other things where the market fails in one way or another. Here, the failure is in the music market — i.e., people being able to steal music easily, and maybe also prices not reflecting positive externalities to the public (e.g., popular stuff being influenced by indie stuff, goodwill to America from music-loving foreigners, etc.). We used to try to fix those market failures with the indirect subsidy that is copyright law, but obviously that doesn’t work so well anymore, so the question is what subsidy replaces it.

            Maybe the answer to the narrow problem here (i.e., making overseas record mailing affordable) is to have a targeted mail subsidy for American cultural works that are mailed abroad by not-so-profitable folks? Sort of like a Fulbright Scholarship, but for records? You’d have to work a bit to get the statutory language right, but doing that seems doable. With this approach, we’d be subsidizing the things we like (indie music going overseas) rather than spending money doing less socially beneficial stuff like helping companies that advertise through the mail.

          • Why don’t American labels buddy up with European ones? An American label can mail one master recording to their European partner label, who will then press and release the album on their own. The American label can then reciprocate by pressing and releasing the European label’s releases. They can work out some way to keep track of the costs of this arrangement. An arrangement like this would cut down a lot of the costs associated with international shipping. Each label would have to give up a bit of their autonomy, but at least your giving that autonomy up to a like-minded person/label, rather than relying too heavily on an unstable USPS or relying on some faceless company like Amazon/UPS/FedEx/etc. I really have no idea how feasible an arrangement like this would be, though. It’s just an idea that popped into my head after reading the article and some of the comments. Does anyone have any thoughts on if something like this would be possible for smaller labels?

    • Vinyl is an increasingly important part of the music scene for small, independent labels. I live in New Zealand and regularly buy records from US labels that do not make it to our stores because we are a small, distant market. Because these are usually bought directly from the label, it isn’t possible to combine items for shipping. The rate increases will have an immediate impact the number of purchases I make. The rate to ship an LP to New Zealand will now be US$23, this is almost twice the price of the actual LP.

      • > Because these are usually bought directly from the label, it isn’t possible to combine items for shipping

        Note that the price going through the roof is sending single albums. Sending a box of 20 or 200 or 2000 won’t be any more expensive than it ever has been.

        The way it used to work, Chris, is that Label A in country B would get a distributor C in country D. A would ship C a huge crate of records, and C would then sell them off over the next year. C would also have an interest in promoting the artist and drumming up a little more sales that way: take them to the right radio station or record store, explain who this band’s influences were and who in turn they’re influencing, and so on.

  3. Well, I’ve never had a problem with the Postal Service…

  4. Counterpoint: leaving the house is terrifying. Who knows what could be lurking outside my door? Wolves??!?!?!? Probably! Call me crazy, but I won’t risk getting my flesh torn apart by wolves just to save diy distributing.

  5. When you control the mail, you control… information!

    • But seriously, USPS isn’t killing indie. The term “Indie” is killing indie. And while the USPS may be “killing” indie, the internet is saving “indie” for the most part. I can’t imagine higher postal fees are really KILLING indie. Seems a bit strong, no?

    • When you control stereogum, you control… the information that people in the indie record scene will see, whether or not its especially accurate

  6. You cannot have an article like this without mentioning the internet.

    We all know that the USPS should, or will be as nonexistent as email in less than 20 years….Why would it need to exist, really, aside from receiving documents or a packages? We text or DL, tweet or stream. It’s natural progression when trying to succeed that you channel efforts into eliminating the middle man when the screws tighten up or there is an easier and quicker way to accomplish something. The postal service is just that, an unnecessary cost. Snail mail that in the end adds more costs to a recording artists bottom line.

    As I think I see it, an artist makes roughly 7 or 8 cents on every 1.00 DL, then ya have Spotify or Pandora that give artists .5-.7 cents per stream, or even worse you have You Tube which plays a role and is around .06 a view for bigtime artists. What does all this mean? It means that an artist is now living off a salary that is referred to a ‘river of nickels’ or in a sense, micropennies. To live with the cost of postage in the mix I’d think doesn’t favor the working artist when trying to find ways to ‘beat an evolving music business’. Problem is that Spot and Pandora are in their infancy and are raking in what they can until someone throws their hands up and calls bullshit. Level the field a bit and maybe it resuscitates the ailing USPS and reels them back into the fold. Make it just as economical to choose a hard copy if that’s your thing.

    • For me it’s about ordering vinyls. Especially rare vinyls.

      Limited press vinyls leave you with little other option than to order them online direct from the store. Or if they do end up in record stores across the country, that still costs to ship.

      Not everyone is satisfied with digital files.

    • This comment is enhanced so much when I imagine Jake from Adventure Time saying it.

  7. USPS 2013

  8. My thoughts on this article are mostly disconnected and anecdotal, so I apologize if I don’t offer a linear response.

    It seems to me that Amazon has to be in this conversation. I worked at UPS for a long time, before Amazon had a contract with UPS and while they had (and still have) a contract with UPS. Amazon is *huge* business for that company. Believe me, the amount of Amazon packages that move through UPS hubs at Christmas time is nothing short of amazing.

    Now, it’s my understanding–anecdotally–that Amazon, in the myriad ways that it has contracted its services to smaller sellers, also ships with FedEx and the USPS. I don’t know the details of those contracts, but I do know that I’ve ordered some music and some DVDs–_Mad Men_, in particular–that are merely “fulfilled by Amazon.” Those packages almost always come to me via the USPS.

    I’ve noticed that there are a whole lot of indie labels out there that do not sell on Amazon (or who do not sell on Amazon with regularity). Captured Tracks comes to mind. A few years back, I bought Wild Nothing’s _Gemini_ on Amazon, but then I had to purchase the _Golden Haze_ EP, as well as some Beach Fossils records and the Medicine remasters directly from the label because they weren’t available on Amazon (though they seem to be now). That’s fine with me. No problem.

    *However*, shouldn’t we be asking what kind of picture we get when we piece all of these parts together? Could contracting with Amazon be a cheaper and more efficient option than standard mail order?

    Perhaps the answer is just a blatant, “no.” That would be fine. It just seems like we should be talking about that question.

    • Kind of related to this, Joseph, is whether “running your own tiny record label” has EVER been a viable option. Even Motown basically went bankrupt in 1999 despite its incredible catalog of artists. Is there an indie outfit today with a better roster of talent than Motown, because that’s what its going to take to survive.

  9. It’s times like this I’m glad I have an awesome, accessible, locally-owned record store.

    You should seriously all just move to Portland Maine.

    • I’ve been involved with underground/indie music for 15+ years playing in bands, touring, running a label etc. and this situation is very serious and could have wide reaching effects way beyond just the music industry. The post office isn’t falling apart because it isn’t needed or not functional its simply because of private interest and the Bush law: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/dont-let-business-lobbyists-kill-the-post-office-20120423, in that law there are rules that don’t let USPS change or diversify to stay more relevant with the times. That law was created by private interest to destroy a public service guaranteed in our constitution so that those private interest could make more money at the expense of the public having to pay more because they cooked the situation unfairly.
      UPS and Fed EX want USPS gone so they don’t have to stay honest, USPS isn’t a monopoly but it is a checks and balance related to postage rates and thus keeps Fed Ex and UPS honest. USPS is a public service it doesn’t exist purely for profit as UPS and Fed Ex do. If USPS goes away the price on everything literally all shipping will dramatically go up because Fed Ex and UPS won’t have to adjust to USPS cheaper prices. USPS gets you the cheapest rate because they only have to sustain they don’t have to exist to generate the large profits. The point is USPS is being pushed out so there can be a monopoly.
      Those of you who think that digital alone can support the music and media industry in general biggest to smallest you are wrong. Ask anybody who was around in a band, running a record or book store, or putting out music in the 90′s even if the industry is more sustainable now. Its not record labels big to small are sweating it even without the calamity of the postal situation. The internet is a wide network with vast resources of access and information but the economy of the internet isn’t fully hashed out honestly related to it being a non physical place inhabited by physical beings. The internet can’t be the only economy simply because we don’t live inside of it. Institutions big and small in the industry have already died out from Virgin Mega Store (actually supported a lot of indie labels and distributors) to historic labels like Touch and Go. Those things happen but you will see it happen on a mass scale if the postal service and especially media mail goes away. The prices will go up so much the amount of people who can still afford to buy goods won’t be enough to sustain the industry (bands, labels, manufactures, distros, PR, press, etc)
      This USPS situation effects stores just as much as it effects labels directly, this is an economy, its like an Eco system, it trickles down and spreads out. This effects all those Ebay and Discogs sellers, book stores, etc. If you like variety if you like a lot of options, lots of music, new music, weird music, fresh ideas, the end of USPS would dramatically effect the amount real art and music being made in the world. If Amazon is the only option on the horizon for mail order goods that seems pretty scary honestly, because not everyone has the ability or access to work with Amazon. Do you want Wal Mart to be your only option for your groceries, clothes etc, its a very similar situation. I personally like my information and art to come from the democratized sources of the many not just the one.

  10. Just as European and Japanese labels have linked with American distros, now is the time for small American labels to do the same. It’s a set back, especially for labels who like to handle things themselves but this rate hike has been in the news cycle for a year–only now that it’s actually happened are people paying attention.

    I’m not attacking the article’s sentiment or any label expressing concern (it’s worrying to me as well for many of the reasons brought about both in the article and in the comments) but there are solutions that don’t involve the government. Just as duplicitous as businesses are in lobbying the government, so are we when we demand one bill that doesn’t benefit us be killed and another that favors us be passed. Isn’t this why DIY labels began? To circumvent the machinations of the business? Now there is a new obstacle and it too can be cleared without petitions doomed to fail and typical [anti-] government/capitalism/private corporation blustering.

  11. well seeing as how In The Red suspended their whole mail order operation yesterday, directly because of this, and they are on pf the biggest garage, psych rock indies of all times, I would say yes it’s a big deal. We by records because nothing beats the sound of an album produced to be on vinyl, nothing….and because we love the artifacts of our favorite stuff. Lot’s of overseas vinyl hounds these days, maybe they’re nations are in better shape fiscally i dunno, i just notice that the bands I’m into have huge followings outside of america, so yes this directly effects them if you are doubling (or worse) the price of a cd/cassette/vinyl/zine than yeah they might just download that shit…..

  12. This rate increase is already having a pretty big effect . I run an “indie” label hhbtm records and the mom & pop record store wuxtry records in athens, georgia. By this point in the week I would normally have about 5 or 6 international orders for the label and at least 2 orders from the shop. So far this week I have received absolutely zero overseas orders. I am now looking at having to bring boxes of records overseas when I tour with bands and have customers come to shows and make sure I book shows in towns where the mail-orders who order smaller orders 40 records and under are located just to make it to where people can still get records without having to pay and arm and leg. With a label like my own that roughly 1/3 of all the records go overseas mainly to the UK & Japan this postage hike is crippling. I don’t mind increases that go up naturally but this one was double the price over night. I can’t wait to see what this is going to do to the record store’s ebay sales over the next month considering over half our store’s ebay goes to overseas bidders. I know some people on this thread keep saying so what, it’s gonna just go to downloads in the future anyway….but the big picture here is that with such a huge increase overnight the effect it’s going to have not only on ebay, discogs, amazon, and the bulk of small business who depend on overseas business will be staggering. i thought getting money from other countries and then spending that money within our own economy was a good thing. within the next month i’ll have to see just how much it’s put a hurt on the label and store then adjust either in releasing less records (that ends up hurting the pressing plant, the sleeve printer, the place i buy the plastic bags from, the company i buy record mailers from, the office supply place i buy packaging tape from, the place i buy business cards i have printed to make download cards from, the copy place that i sometimes get inserts printed from) and with less sales then that means I end up taking on even more stuff on my own (which means i end up giving employees which i only have two part time even less hours, take on doing more publicity myself meaning this takes a job away from another person) and as far as the record store goes we use our ebay funds to get t-shirts printed at a local printer, order quarterly direct orders from smaller labels that don’t have consistent distribution, to help promote local artists showcases at local clubs covering production, and the list goes on and on. So this rate increase will have a much bigger trickle down than I’m sure anyone involved in the bill ever considered, then again that is not that surprising as how many politicians ever really dealt with their own businesses or had any real mom & pop history. Again I have no problem with shipping increases when they seem somewhat rational, but this recent one makes no sense at all.

  13. Justin I’m curious what are the solutions? if you think there are solutions outside of the infrastructure of the mail service? how can you avoid shipping other then everything going to strictly digital? What about the “typical” private interest of the H.R. 6407 (109th): Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act itself and Fed Ex and UPS connection to it? should the issue be avoided because we are “too late to the party”, or might sound “stupidly anti corporate” What are the positives to this bill? who benefits from it? DIY labels don’t exist “outside” even if they think they do, VINYL record production is a very industrial process same with the manufacture of all the products we all use to digest all the information we take in be it a speaker or a screen. Your right I for one would Lobby for those things that I don’t think are good or are beneficial to my life or values in the same way the opposition lobby’s for there own interest.
    My argument let the Post Office roll with the times to see if she can keep on keeping on as she was before if she dies so be it, but HR 6407 sinks her prematurely. Sorry for my blustering.

  14. I had no idea about the international rate increase until today. Cds we shipped to Canada for $2.50 now cost $7.75 & anywhere else in the world cost us $6.12 but now went up to $12.89. We are a small business & can’t afford the increase. How the heck is our government trying to help small businesses when they are totally doing the opposite by jacking prices up by 200% & 300% in one day. I will no longer be able to ship international unless customers want to pay out of their a**. I ship about 20 cds a week international & now I will no longer be getting these sales do to this problem. Hope I can survive this catastrophe!!!

    • Same here, our only hope is our customers start buying bulk in 2-4 pound packages (at least the rates didn’t go up that high in that weight range). By the way the definition of a “small business” is less than 500 employees so us real little guys just don’t matter to them.

  15. If indie labels are such a niche market that international customers just must have your product, then by all means raise your shipping prices and get over it. If you have something worthy to sell they WILL buy it. This is just business, it’s not USPS vs. indie labels.

  16. It’s kinda like how the DMV ruined alternative.

  17. Life will find a way.

  18. I’m always a bit put out when constitutionalism is cited as an ideology. Why does being included in a document affect whether something is considered good or bad? Is it really inconsistent to vie for less government involvement in both guns and postal services? If we’re going to talk about the USPS, let’s evaluate on its own terms. With that said, I’ve got a deeply ingrained loyalty to indie labels–I’m the Three Lobed intern mentioned above–and I can attest to how much this is going to hurt them. But I also have to wonder if it’s really true that we can only have an indie culture through government intervention. Setting aside conspiracy theories, private postal services can’t compete with the USPS on its terms because it is a government agency and has a legal monopoly on mail delivery. So, instead of the same product, they offer a premium alternative. We won’t lose your shit, we’ll get it there faster, etc. I don’t think it’s unfathomable that if the USPS caves, private companies might fill the void. And if they don’t–if they can’t, because the USPS’s government status is the only reason it can operate as it does–then that’s a difficult situation itself. Only by taking money from people who won’t give it willingly can our industry operate, apparently. What I’m saying is, while this situation puts an indisputably painful squeeze on indie record labels, I don’t think we should be totally comfortable throwing our arms around the USPS and its rehabilitation, because to do so seems to me a decree of the unsustainability of our culture, which is not something I’m personally all that eager to be convinced of.

    • I’m sorry but this argument is flat-out wrong. Private mail carriers CAN compete with the USPS because their lobbying arms have spent millions of dollars over the past twenty years to affect legislation that PREVENTS the USPS from competing. This is why the USPS doesn’t offer overnight or mail tracking services in a fashion similar to UPS or FedEx. UPS specifically has launched massive campaigns to fashion the USPS as the antiquated service it has become. Why? Because now UPS can use the USPS as its own remote delivery service, saving the company millions of dollars by not having to deliver to areas that are too far out of the way.

      Don’t blame the USPS for this. Blame crony capitalism and a willful, systematic destruction of public properties, which has tied the organization’s hands on this, for creating an environment where labels suffer.

      Sorry if this comes across as a personal attack, it’s not intended to be. I’m just tired of the Libertarian argument of “government bad, because it’s government” when many fiscal Libertarians and conservatives have intentionally gutted the organization, and other government agencies, so it was destined to fail.

      This isn’t meant to be a shill, because I’m not affiliated with this site, but it goes into far greater depth than I ever could: http://www.savethepostoffice.com/

  19. While I understand the passion many people have for vinyl and cd (I have at least 5,000+ vinyl records), the reality of the music biz is that digital delivery has made a huge impact on how people get their music and those companies who don’t adapt will eventually disappear; we are already seeing this happen with record shops around the world who refused to restructure their retail space and offer to music fans. If an indie label has a business model that is relying on physical delivery of the bulk of their sales when there are loads of cheaper, if not free, alternatives, then they deserve to go out of business for having bad business sense. The post office itself is a casualty of the digital era – something that music labels can learn from before it’s too late.

  20. I know this is a “serious” article, and I’m not trying to take away from that, BUT some of y’all need some math lessons! I’ve looked at the rate changes, and there is NO way a CD that once shipped for, lets say 5 dollars, now ships for 10 dollars with the international rates going up around 15%.

  21. I’ve been selling records, CD’s (used mainly) & music video since 1990 as mail order, about 5-10 a day way before Ebay came into the mix. This rate hike is murdering anybody selling any items in the 3-12 oz.outside the USA, I just had to raise shipping rates on CD’s from $6.50 to 12.50! so I’ll lose maybe 90% of my sales there from foreign buyers (most stuff I sell is in the $7-20 range). All these years of price increases & it usually bumps up maybe 5 to 15% at a time. I sell for a few weeks before I adjust my shipping this time I had to block all outside the USA shipping & get new software & change all my shipping based on weight. Ebay was a bit underhanded on this & only told us about 3 days in advance & I got stung on a few sales. Even sending a CD now with artwork & without the CD case I have to charge $9.50! (last week I charged $5) I’m upset at the sudden huge jump, it should have come in 2 separate increases.

  22. oh well… find another way to make money then if you don’t like it. Or start your own shiping company and see if your rates can beat the USPS. If not, stfu.

  23. I read this article carefully and came to somewhat different conclusions than the author James Toth. The issues described are actually a little complicated, so it takes more than a paragraph to explain in detail why I don’t agree. Since Toth thinks this is important enough to petition the govt about, I hope you can take a couple minutes and hear me out, and set me straight if I seem to be mis-understanding something. By the end, I think there’s a fair chance I WILL NOT have convinced you that Toth is wrong. But I bet I will convince you, at least, that the issue is far more complicated than Toth is telling you, and you will probably agree that he should have given you far more detail before asking you to sign a petition.

    UPS and FedEx are cited as giving 250k to the president that year, but Bush didn’t initiate, draft, or sponsor this bill. It is possible for the president to expend his political capital to request a certain law be made (eg Hillarycare, Obamacare) but in 2006 I think Bush had many other topics that were much more important to him. So, I doubt he influenced this legislation much or at all. I suppose he did ultimately sign it into law, but as a Republican we expect that he was nominally pro-business anyway. So, wouldn’t he have signed it whether or not he got contributions? If so, the contributions didn’t “buy” anything. (Its not important, but note the contributions were 1/100 of what USPS loses every day.)

    The article makes the heavy implication that these firms were using money–or, at least, a naturally pro-business administration–to tilt the playing field unfairly in their favor. In fact I think the situation is a bit different. The playing field was, I think, actually tilted unfairly in the favor of USPS, and this legislation was perhaps partially motivated to address that. If so, I can certainly see why UPS and FedEx would have been very excited about it.

    Here’s how I think the playing field was unfairly tilted before. UPS and FedEx have to pay their workers’ wages and pensions. In turn, they have to charge the customers enough money to cover those wages and pensions. In contrast, under the old pricing, USPS did NOT have to pass on pension costs to customers like this; it was set up to have taxpayers in coming decades pay those pensions. (See below for details.) That allows USPS, if its the same efficiency as FedEx, to offer a lower price and steal business. Ironically, those pension costs would partly have come out of FedEx and UPS’s taxes (see below), so they in effect would be paying not only their own workers’ pensions now, but that of their large competitor later!

    The article makes a big deal about how no other arm of the govt has pension requirements like this. It leaves the hanging implication that this is due to corporate malfeasance. However, if you think about it for a second, USPS is probably unique in a couple of ways. First, it has substantial income which is comparable to its expense, so we can actually ask what price would cover its cost. In contrast, for instance, no-one would ever argue whether the army should raise its price for invasions. Secondly, USPS has private competitors that can and do do exactly the same job, unlike most other branches of govt I can think of. For instance getting accurate cost accounting in the judicial system isn’t key in giving private courtrooms a level playing field. Third, while USPS could reasonably run pay-as-you-go pensions for decades until now, those days are over. This takes a bit more explanation.

    For many decades, the USPS had a large and dependable gross income. Since the US population was growing several percent a year, the amount of mail, and therefore the USPS gross income, was increasing too. Lets take 1980 as an example year. A small part of the gross income pulled in in 1980 was immediately paid out to people who retired in the 60s and 70s. Since the country was much smaller back then, so was the USPS, and it had relatively few employees compared to 1980. The retirees are proportionally few compared to the customers of 1980, so it only takes a small part of gross income to do pay these pensions. This system is called “pay as you go” and is, as you probably know, how Social Security works. Its actually also kind of like how Ponzi schemes work.

    However, around 1995, thanks to the internet and strong private competitors, the post office started shrinking, as much as 5% a year. 5% doesn’t sound like much, but over 14 years that cuts its size in half. 14 years after that, it gets cut in half again. The old pay-as-you-go system, that worked fine when it was growing a few percent a year, suddenly collapses like a Ponzi scheme when the gross income starts shrinking. To be more specific, all the retirees from 1995 to 2015, for instance, may still be alive in 2030 and want their pensions. But in 2030 the USPS will be much, much, much smaller than now, and so will its gross income. There would NOT be enough money to pay the retirees simply by skimming it off the top of sales.

    OK, so no problem, USPS can just get that money from government. Which gets it from taxes, from my kids and your kids, and any companies making profit then, which might be… FedEx and UPS. Is that a good idea? I don’t ship indie records anywhere, but why should I or my kids pay in 2030 to subsidize the indie record scene today? The alternative decided upon, apparently, is that we should we start having the customers themselves actually pay not only for the salaries of today’s USPS employees, AND their pensions too. Somehow it just doesn’t sound so controversial that I would sign an on-line petition to stop it. In fact, if anything, I’m in favor of this change.

    Back to the indie scene. I think the author is mistaken when he says this is causing the death of indie… but I might be wrong. In fact of the analysis above, there are probably some things I’m overlooking or mistaken about. However, I am absolutely certain, and I hope I’ve conveyed to you, that the issue is far far more complex than the simple-yet-popular explanation of “evil corporations” he is explaining to you, and that he’s being pretty manipulative in trying to get you to sign something without telling you what is actually going on. He cares enough to give us the names of a half-dozen specific record labels and industry insiders, and name-check 20 bands, but doesn’t bother to give a single fact related to what he’s actually asking you to petition to change.

  24. Utterly depressing to say the least.

  25. Yesterday I opened a petition regarding this issue. These new rate hikes have had a huge negative impact on individuals and small business alike. I only need 150 signatures to make the petition publicly viewable on the site’s Open Petitions section. If I can get 100,000 signatures by 3/8/13 the petition will be reviewed by White House staff then sent through the appropriate channels. Please go to the petition page below to sign the petition!

    https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/scale-back-recent-usps-international-mail-rate-hike-it-hinders-americas-ability-compete-global-e/HBKGtjW8

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2