Monday, October 24, 2011

Benjamin R. Tucker in Printers' Ink, 1892

Here's another letter from Benjamin R. Tucker relating to the publishing trade, which refers to his experiences publishing the Weekly Bulletin of Newspaper and Periodical Literature, one of three non-political papers he published—the others were The Transatlantic and the elusive Five Stories a Week—which haven't received much attention.



HAS HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE.

 Benj. R, Tucker,
Publisher and Bookseller,
224 Tremont St.,
Boston, Jan. 31, 189-2.
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Geo. P. Rowell & Co.,
Publishers of Printers' Ink:
I am sorry that you are made a victim of official stupidity at Washington, and glad that you are disposed to use your wide influence in the assertion of your rights and those of your fellow publishers. As one of the latter I have been subjected to expensive annoyances at the hands of the postal authorities, very similar to that from which you are now suffering. Perhaps the facts may not be uninteresting at this juncture to you and your readers. 

Last summer I started in Boston a little four-page weekly paper, entitled The Weekly Bulletin of Newspaper and Periodical Literature. It embodied an entirely new idea in journalism. Nobody in Washington or elsewhere had ever seen or heard of anything like it. Its sole purpose was to present, week by week, a classified, running catalogue of the principal contents of the daily press, as well as of all periodicals published at longer than daily intervals. Giving the titles and length of the articles, the names of the authors, and the names and dates of the periodicals, and classifying them under twenty-eight different subjects, this weekly catalogue it was plainly to be seen would become—what it has since become—an indispensable tool to many specialists, students, professional men, litterateurs, artists and scientists. Plainly to be seen, that is, by all but official eyes. These, however, are so bandaged with red tape that they are incapable of seeing anything in the least removed from the channel of established routine. I filled out the blank required from applicants for the second-class mail matter privilege, made affidavit to my statements, and forwarded the document to Washington, together with a copy of the first issue of the Weekly Bulletin. It was nearly three weeks, I think, before I received any answer at all, although it was stated on the back of the blank that all applications will be answered promptly. The novelty was evidently a puzzle to the bureaucrats. Probably they reasoned: "We have never seen any second-class matter like this; therefore, this cannot be second-class matter:" for the answer finally came in the shape of peremptory instructions to the Boston postmaster to collect third-class postage on all copies of the Weekly Bulletin. Any private business concern would have accompanied a ruling of this nature with the reasons governing it, in order to save unnecessary delay. But not so the United States Government. That simply commands, without deigning to explain. I wrote to Washington, protesting against the decision, and requesting the grounds thereof. I stated in the letter that I could present the testimony of numerous institutions and educated men that they found the paper of great value. After a time the Postal Department answered that the paper had been excluded for the reason that it had only a nominal subscription list and must be intended for gratuitous circulation, but that it would examine any new evidence that I might offer. I knew that the reason given could be only a pretense, for I had previously entered as second-class matter several other publications which started with as small subscription lists and at equally low subscription rates, and to these no objection had been made. However, as a matter of form, I directly met the Department's position by pointing out that not one new paper in fifty starts with other than a nominal subscription list, and that to exclude one new paper on this ground logically leads to the exclusion of nearly all new papers whatsoever. But knowing that in officialdom the influence of names is greater than the power of reason, I accompanied this argument with numerous testimonials, samples of those that were pouring in upon me, unsolicited, from all parts of the country. These had the desired effect, as I knew they would; and, after another delay, the Boston postmaster was ordered by his superiors to accept the Weekly Bulletin at second-class rates. 

But now the Bulletin had reached its seventh number. What had I been forced to do, meanwhile? Why, simply to spend several hundred dollars in printing my paper weekly at an almost total loss, being utterly deprived of the only machinery whereby I could hope to get any return for my expenditure. Did the authorities remunerate me? By no means. They did not have even the grace to apologize for their stupidity; still less did they offer compensation. 

I do not doubt that outrages similar to this occur every week in the Posr-Office Department, Yours is simply the latest instance. What are the remedies? 

One remedy is to turn the blockheads out of office and put in their places men who can appreciate the nature of the matter offered for mailing, and can interpret the existing law in a spirit of breadth, fairness and decency. All students know that such a remedy is impossible under our present political system. 

A second remedy is to reframe the existing law in language so explicit that the merest simpleton can understand it. I fancy that this is a task beyond the capacity of our lawmakers. 

A third remedy is to abolish the second-class rate, reduce the first-class rate (letter postage) to one cent or less, and carry, at the precise cost of carrying, everything that is deposited in the mails of such a nature that it will not interfere with the postal business. This is a sensible remedy, and would make the Post-Office self-supporting instead of a burden, as at present, upon those who do not use it or who use it but little. I should very much like to see it tried, though it would be against my immediate pecuniary interest, as I spend five dollars now at second-class rates where I spend one dollar at first-class rates. 

A fourth remedy, and in my view the best of all, is to abolish the Post-Office monopoly altogether, and relegate the whole business into the hands of competitive private enterprise, from which it ought never to have been taken. Then we should all be served in a business-like manner, without meddlesomeness, impudence or annoyance, and for all abuses there would be methods of redress. 

Hoping that you may find redress even under the present absurd system, and recommending all your fellow-publishers to hold up your hands, I am, yours truly,
Benj. R. Tucker.



Benjamin R. Tucker, “Has Had a Similar Experience,” Printers’ Ink 6, no. 6 (February 10, 1892): 187-188.

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