Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

March 19, 2013

Missed It: John Porcellino And Simon Moreton Chime In On Postage Rate Increases

I ran across the following missive from the great John Porcellino in trying to sort out my mail yesterday. He sent it in response to February's attention to a postal rate increase and how that might have an effect on those that physically mail comics out to customers, particularly those overseas.
One way zine distros have figured shipping for their items in the past is by listing the weight of each item alongside its price. The customer adds up the weights as well, and then refers to a chart to figure the cost. I've considered this, but even then there are so many variables, like the size and shape of the package, that I don't know how accurate it would be.

For instance, if someone in Canada orders three King-Cats from me, it's actually cheaper to mail them all individually in separate envelopes than in one package, because once the mail is over 1/4" thick it becomes a package instead of letter rate, and those rates are higher.

I've been systematically tweaking my rates for 20 years, and had it pretty accurate. The problem is that these new rates throw all that out the window. I feel like I'm starting over just trying to get a handle on it all.
I hope that most people have settled into new strategies. I suspect that the rate hike will mean a significant change in the way some people consume these comics, for instance placing a higher premium on picking up a bunch at shows or when overseas. It will also probably have a negative overall effect on business.

Right after the e-mail from John Porcellino came this missive from Simon Moreton:
Just reflecting on your post about postal rates changing in the US. They changed significantly here in the UK last April (this article talks largely about domestic rates) that has left us with similar challenges to what is happening over there now - though perhaps your prices have ended up higher, I'm unclear as yet. As an example, to send a single copy of one of my zines, costs me £3.30. I sell them for £3.00 but cannot justify charging the consumer full price for postage -- so I charge enough to make a 50p profit on a zine. Without charging, I'd obviously make a loss. It's very tough. I already find shipping prices very high to order things from the US, and I imagine that'll now be worse.

I wonder though what role distros may have in mitigating against this. The ability to ship in bulk to the US helps, so that I'm not sending out things individually. John P carries my work, as does Secret Acres and Microcosm Distro. I just sent a parcel to the latter that cut postage down to ~£1 a zine. Sadly, with a 50/50 or whatever split, it still means I barely break even assuming they sell everything. BUT it does give me exposure, which to be honest, is all I care about - having people find and enjoy and relate to my work, that's my goal. So bulk mailing obviously is (and always has been) the most cost effective way of sending material.

But I guess my question is: will distros be able to step up as distributors and offer overseas zines and minis a chance to find a footing, prohibited by peer-to-peer internet sales? Am I daydreaming? Will there be an option for them to somehow absorb and recentralise imports? Will that mean anything? To be honest, I know more about US distros than I do about UK ones.

Anyway, this is a staggeringly unwarranted and unneeded sounding lesson on postal economics -- musing in part because I should be doing something better, no doubt. I'm sure fireworks are bursting forth from your inbox as you read this..
I thank both gentlemen for their e-mails, and encourage anyone else with something to say to drop me a line.
posted 8:20 am PST | Permalink

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