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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 3

Newspaper Postage

page 76

Newspaper Postage.

In reply to Mr Reeves, the Government have announced that they have no intention of remitting the post-age fee charged on newspapers. We well remember when newspapers posted in this colony could be sent absolutely free to all parts of the world—an undoubted boon to struggling proprietors in the hard times of native and other troubles; and we have not forgotten how, to meet war expenditure, a postal rate of one penny was suddenly imposed. To many of the smaller papers, the new impost was fatal; and the indignation of the press was great, but unavailing. The inland rate has since been reduced one-half; but for home and foreign postage it is heavier—one penny to England, the British colonies, and the United States, and twopence to the continent. In our own case, the foreign postage is a very heavy expense. Hundreds of our papers are despatched monthly to Europe and America—not to subscribers, but to exchanges and trade houses, and every name on our list represents an outlay in postage of either one or two shillings per annum. This is a hardship, but our case is an exceptional one; and great as the relief to us and to newspapers generally would be if the proposed change were made, we cannot advocate it; and for this reason: the postal charge is not a tax, but a payment for services rendered. The post office is a public institution, and does not, like a private concern, need to look for a stated profit on its operations; but there is no reason why it should be carried on at a loss. It pays heavy subsidies to the swiftest steamboat lines for mail conveyance, and no sound reason can be given why tons of newspapers should be carried away from the colony every week at the public expense. If this is done, the service must either be conducted at a serious loss, or the writers of letters must most unfairly pay a heavy rate in order that newspapers may pass free.

There are certain difficulties in the fixing of a postal rate on newspapers. In the case of a uniform rate, publishers of a small and light sheet like our own, for which only a nominal rate of subscription is charged, are placed at a great disadvantage in comparison with the proprietors of the overgrown weeklies of fifty or sixty pages, in addition to the extraneous matter in the form of supplements. In fact, these papers—reprints of dailies, in every case—owe their very existence to the postal rate. The saving of postage alone is sufficient to warrant the cost of a separate issue and a separate subscription list, as well as the extra expense of large quantities of standing type, and the re-arrangement of matter. The first cost of composition (as well as reporting and editorial work) being saved, they can be produced so cheaply that no independently published weekly could compete with them. In fact, the colonial weekly is a device by which the matter of six big daily papers may be transmitted through the post at a single rate. The only fair method would be to treat newspapers like letters and book-parcels, and charge by weight; but there are considerable difficulties in carrying such a proposal into effect. But, admitting all the defects of the present system, and its unavoidable hardships, we consider the proposal to remit the postage rate altogether, as entirely unwarrantable. It is strange, too, that the suggestion should have come, not from the small and struggling papers, upon whom it really presses severely, but from the great newspaper companies, who receive in return from the postal department much more than an equivalent for their outlay.

Curiously enough, this question has just come prominently forward on « the other side. » Some interesting remarks on the subject are to be found in the letter of our Melbourne correspondent in this issue. New South Wales and Tasmania, alone of all Australian colonies, send papers through the post free to all parts of the world, and the Victorian publishers are agitating for a like concession, which the Government naturally hesitates to grant. The correspondent of a contemporary—a newspaper-man, evidently—describes the rate as « the iniquitous stamp-duty, » and says:

This half-penny stamp that the Post Office clings to with such tenacity, has driven, and is still driving away hundreds of thousands of pounds, which might be earned as wages and profits in Melbourne, for the benefit of printers and publishers in Sydney. This is a rather unique way of « protecting » local industries, and shows how little our sapient legislators know about the matter. I am reminded of this by the announcement that the Centennial Magazine has kept the first anniversary of its birthday. It is essentially a Victorian publication, written in, and largely circulated in the colony. But, it is printed in Sydney, because from that capital it can be circulated free all over the world, Victoria included. The Christian World was removed from Melbourne for the same reason. Nearly all the contributors to the——live in Melbourne, but the proprietors are said to save £500 a year postage by publishing in Sydney.

Of course it is not a « stamp-duty » at all. The objectionable English stamp-duty on newspapers, long since abolished, was altogether different and apart from any postal fee. The truth is, that « free-trade » New South Wales has been protecting the publishers by carrying and distributing their periodicals to all parts of the world at the cost of the tax-payers. Just as the « bounty » system supplied John Bull with cheap sugar at the expense of the French citizen, so the New Zealand or Melbourne subscriber to Sydney literature can obtain it cheaper than that published in his own colony. The result is, a temporary stimulus to the trade in New South Wales; but which, we venture to predict, will ultimately result in disaster to the publishers there. From our correspondent's letter it will be seen that two schemes are proposed in Melbourne to meet the difficulty. One is to remit the rate there, and put both colonies on an even footing. The other is, to impose a heavy Customs duty on imported literature. Both proposals are bad—the latter the worse. In either case the Victorian public would pay the piper, and in either case the New South Wales publishers—whose business has been unduly inflated by State aid—would find a terrible reaction. One or other proposal will certainly be carried into effect—to the mutual disadvantage of the colonies—unless, indeed, the postal department of New South Wales, in a lucid interval, impose a reasonable fee.

Therefore, while we would welcome a remission in the unduly heavy rates of foreign postage on papers—in our own case amounting to nearly £20 a year, for which our foreign exchanges are our only equivalent—we should decidedly oppose the abolition of the postal fee. The temporary gain to the publishers, at the expense of the general taxpayers, would be more than counterbalanced by their ultimate loss. Either as regards states or individuals the same rule holds good: He who works for nothing, injures those who depend upon their labor—he does not benefit himself, and he inflicts a wrong upon the community.

We have good news this month. The new libel act has passed both houses of Parliament, and a reform in the copyright law is in hand. The former measure is substantially the same as the English act, with additional safeguards against speculative actions by men of straw. We intend giving a full summary of both measures at an early date. Typo has to congratulate the press on these two important reforms, which have been steadily advocated in these pages since our first number appeared, two-and-a-half years ago. Under the unjust libel laws, the press has been plundered of thousands of pounds during the past thirty years. The two important reforms of 1889 in the law affecting the press, will remain a standing memorial to the value of trade journalism.

page 77

As a Court of Appeal the newspaper press has no legal status; but nevertheless this is one of its numerous functions. A man in Wellington was lately waylaid and foully assassinated on a lonely road. Suspicion fell on an Italian named Chemis, and a jury—Wellington juries have more than once broken the record for stupidity—have found him guilty of Wilful Murder on extremely slender circumstantial evidence. The Chief Justice put on the black cap, and sentenced the prisoner to death. The newspapers, without exception, declare that the verdict was not warranted, and that to hang the prisoner would be judicial murder. And we venture to say that, notwithstanding the « verdiet, » and notwithstanding the sentence, Chemis—unless he make confession—will not be hanged.

Some of our readers last month would notice that three lines on our postal wrapper were cancelled. Thereby hangs a tale. A considerable portion of the issue had been posted, and the English and foreign copies had been addressed for the mail, when we received a notice from the department that our wrapper (which we have used from the very first number) was not in accordance with the regulations. Being unconscious of any offence, we inquired wherein we had broken the law, when our attention was directed to the following rule: « A newspaper shall not contain…. anything on the cover but the name and address of the person to whom it is sent, the printed title of the newspaper, and the printed name and address of the publisher or vendor who sends it. » Even then it was difficult to see wherein we had erred. But it appeared that after due consideration, the department had decided that the words: « A Monthly Newspaper and Review, devoted to the Advancement of the Typographic Art, and the Interests of the Printing, Publishing, and Bookselling Trades, » could not be tolerated on the wrapper of a newspaper! We submitted that this was really part of the title, as might be seen from the cover of any number or title-pages of the volumes, but in vain, Our papers were however allowed to pass, after the objectionable words had been struck out with a pen. So we have altered our wrapper—not without some misgivings lest the boundary-Rule may yet be found contrary to Regulation. The wrapper sent back appears to have been objected to by some keen-eyed postmaster in the Otago district, whose learned leisure is occupied in the study of those regulations which have apparently no other object than to entrap the unwary publisher. As it bears a postmark dated last September, the department have been just nine months making up their minds as to whether or not the regulation has been infringed. Meantime, we have been allowed, all unwittingly, to commit a good many thousands of breaches of the law, in sending the illegal wrappers to all parts of the world. It is about time that the medley of regulations in the Postal Guide relating to newspapers and other periodicals received a thorough overhauling. It is only fair to say that the Parliament is not responsible for the foolishness of which we complain, except that in the Post Office Act it has allowed too much scope for the eccentricities of that mythical personage « The Governor in Council. » From time to time the stupidest provisions are drafted—no one knows by whom or wherefore—and gazetted, and thenceforth-have all the force of law.