Sunday, November 19, 2017

Of Penises and the Printing Industry

Rarely do I publish a post that's solely about another article, but I'm recommending that anyone who works or is involved in the printing industry read this eye-opening piece by my cyber-friend Deborah Corn, The Ugly Truth of Print Shows, Penises and #MeToo.

You probably won't see it in the usual printing-industry publications or on their web sites. They're not known for publishing headlines that contain "penis."

I've met a few dickheads who work in the printing industry, but I had no idea it was populated by so many sickos. And from what I've seen of the responses to it so far, it's "eye opening" only to men: Women who work in the business are all too aware of this filth.

A couple of observations:

1) The printing industry is struggling to attract fresh blood into the business. It's no wonder. From what I've seen of people who were born in the 1990s, this sort of "good old boy" behavior isn't tolerated by today's young women and repulses most young men as well.

2) I hope more women in printing will jump on the #MeToo bandwagon. And I can't wait to see what happens when they move on to #BalanceTonPorc (French for "squeal on your pig"), or its more prosaic English hashtag, #NameNames.

Monday, October 2, 2017

USPS Has Good News for Prospective Retirees

The U.S. Postal Service recently made a quiet change that will cause retirement to look sweeter for thousands of postal workers.

Pension estimates the USPS provides to employees who are considering retirement now include an amount for the FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System) supplement, reports Don Cheney, an APWU official with a long history of helping fellow union members understand their retirement benefits. The Postal Service has not announced the change.

“According to the responses I’ve received on Facebook, numerous employees are getting the new FERS annuity estimates with the supplement amount listed,” Cheney says. He provided a sample statement from one employee who would receive more than $15,000 annually – nearly equal to her regular annuity.

“This means FERS employees [those hired after 1983] will finally feel comfortable retiring. The USPS may get a huge exodus,” Cheney predicted. 

The supplement is meant to take the place of Social Security until USPS retirees turn 62, when actual Social Security payments kick in. Usually, a postal worker needs to be at least 55 with 30 years of service to qualify for the supplement. About 85,000 postal workers have 30 or more years of service.

As Dead Tree Edition has reported previously, ignorance of and uncertainty about the FERS supplement have hindered response to USPS early-retirement offers. In a VERA (Voluntary Early Retirement) campaign, the minimum years of service to receive a VERA supplement drops to 20.

That could have been a huge incentive for some employees to retire early -- except that they typically were not told how much the supplement would be, or even if they were eligible, until after they submitted their request to retire.

But the era of big VERAs seems to be over. Instead of having too many employees, the downsized Postal Service now struggles to handle the rising tide of package deliveries while keeping deliveries on time and overtime under control. And there don’t seem to be any major productivity improvements on the horizon that would make it easy to eliminate more positions.

In theory, retirements enable the Postal Service to save money by replacing high-paid career workers with part-timers who gets much lower pay and few benefits. But union contracts limit the number of such non-career employees.

And with the recent trends of low unemployment rates and rising part-time wages, the Postal Service has struggled to recruit and retain non-career workers, especially in markets that have a high cost of living.

“The shortage of clerks and carriers has reached a critical point in almost every post office,” Cheney said. “I expect a massive failure of service standards during the Christmas rush.”

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Postal Service Eyes January Rate Hikes

The U.S. Postal Service is planning to raise virtually all rates a bit in January, apparently including a one-cent hike of the Forever Stamp, to 50 cents. And it’s also hoping it will soon get the power to implement larger rate hikes.

The USPS will raise rates for both market-dominant mail (such as First Class and Marketing Mail) and competitive mail (such as Priority Mail) on Jan. 21, 2018, postal officials told mailing-industry representatives this week.

The average rate increases for market-dominant classes are limited by an inflation-based cap, currently close to 2%. A postal official indicated that rates would rise from 1% to 3% for most market-dominant products, according to attendees at a meeting of the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee.

Postal officials didn’t spell out what any of the new rates would be. But a statement that the increase for letter mail would be about 2% almost certainly means that the price of the popular Forever Stamp for First Class letters will rise from 49 cents to 50 cents (a 2.04% hike).

The new rates for flat Marketing Mail and Periodicals would provide greater incentives to create efficient mailings, which is good news for catalogs and magazines that are co-mailed, as well as for printers that provide co-mail services. But it means higher-than-average rates for small publishers that don’t take advantage of such mail-consolidation programs.

The USPS is most likely to file the new rates with the Postal Regulatory Commission in October. As long as the PRC determines that the USPS proposal meets certain standards, such as not violating the price caps, the new rates will take effect without modification.

Next month, the PRC is slated to announce the results of its 10th anniversary review of the law that created the price cap. If it determines that the law’s system for regulating market-dominant rates is not meeting the law’s objectives, the PRC can modify or replace the system.

Postal officials argue that, because the system fails to meet the objective “to assure adequate revenues . . . to maintain financial stability,” the PRC should loosen or eliminate the price cap. But a significant PRC overhaul of the rate-making rules would probably lead to legal challenges that could delay implementation of any changes.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Color It Dead: The Coloring Book Bubble Has Burst

Stick a crayon in it: The adult coloring book craze is dead.

Coloring books with grown-up themes were the hot item of 2016 for both brick-and-mortar bookstores and for retail sales of magazines.

Publishers eagerly jumped aboard the bandwagon, cranking out new products in a category that’s well-suited to analog, in-person sales and definitely ill-suited to electronic editions. (Seen a Kindle edition of a coloring book lately?)

Now many stores have grown wary of the category, as sales plummet and inventory stacks up, according to book-industry sources.

Barnes & Noble reported that coloring books were the main reason its Sterling Publishing Co.’s sales grew 22% in the year that ended on April 30, 2016 – and declined 20% during the following nine months.

Recently, B&N management reportedly told its buyers to put the kibosh on bringing in any more adult coloring books, "with rare exceptions." Other retailers are predicting their 2017 book sales will be down versus last year because of the coloring book crash.

Data about sales of adult coloring bookazines distributed via the “newsstand” (magazine retail) system are harder to come by. Magazine publishers were later to the party than book publishers, but many still profited for a while.

The MagNet newsstand-analysis service reported in early 2016 that the category was growing in both titles and unit sales, “with many releases selling over 125,000 copies on the newsstand at higher cover prices.”

But the coloring book trend seems to have cooled off, if not crashed, for magazine publishers as well. No longer does every industry conferences include a speaker telling us that the way to stop the newsstand system from circling the drain is to publish more adult coloring books.

And Cosmo never did publish the Kama Sutra Coloring Book, packaged with a box of 24 different "Flesh Tone" Crayolas, that I was so hoping for.

My friends in the book trade say the Next Big Thing is joke books. Some will say the magazine industry got a jump on that trend with all the special issues about President Trump. (But I, for one, am not laughing.)

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