Electric cooperatives are being the “squeaky wheel” in pushing back against postage rate increases that could hurt page counts and circulation of statewide association magazines.

The publications are crucial to keeping members informed on local news, meetings and cooperative advocacy efforts, particularly in areas that lack access to high-speed internet service. But rising postage costs may force some statewide associations to cut the frequency and length of their magazines.

Additional rate increases “could be crippling to these important publications,” said Ryan Hall, communications director for the Montana Electric Cooperatives' Association (MECA) and a past president of the Statewide Editors Association.

“Some of the other magazines are looking at not publishing 12 months a year. I know some are looking at reducing page counts,” Hall said. “People are looking at drastic measures.”

The U.S. Postal Service is proposing total rate increases of nearly 8% for first-class mail and marketing mail and an almost 10% jump for periodicals. If approved, the rate hikes would take effect in mid-July and represent the sixth increase in three years, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers said in comments filed May 6 with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

For MECA, postal rates for its magazine, Rural Montana, have already climbed nearly 40% since January 2022. If prices rise in July 2024 and again in February and July 2025 as expected, postage would make up over half the per-copy cost of the magazine, Hall said, compared with about 40% now.

“The magazine is the top way that we reach and connect with our members every single month,” he said. “Readers rely on it for that connection to their co-op.”

Statewide publications give co-op members information on cooperative programs, participation in director elections, and making homes more energy efficient, said Scott Gates, senior editor of Carolina Country, the statewide magazine for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.

“What’s more, many members prefer to receive monthly bills by mail,” Gates said. “And digital communications, though important, simply cannot connect with and educate members as well as a physical magazine like statewide publications.”

Squeaky wheel

Along with the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, cooperatives and their allies are pushing back against the proposed rate hikes.

For the first time ever, Montana co-op leaders met with Postal Service officials during NRECA’s annual Legislative Conference in April to voice their worries.

“You’ve got to be the squeaky wheel,” Hall said.

At next year’s conference, MECA plans to partner with other statewide associations that have larger magazine circulations to keep up pressure on the Postal Service. Collectively, statewide associations mail over 12 million magazines every month.

“We played the little-guy card this year, and next year we’re going to play the big-guy card,” Hall said.

In Montana, every cooperative that takes the statewide magazine puts its newsletters in the periodical. And several co-ops use the magazine to post official notices for annual meetings.

The magazines also provide timely info on co-op advocacy efforts on priorities like the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas rules and the future of the Lower Snake River dams in the Pacific Northwest, Hall said.

According to a survey by Cooperative Insights, magazines are still the top way that members get co-op communications.

Of those surveyed, 38% said they recalled receiving communications through the statewide publication. Member newsletters, which are often included in the magazine, followed at 28%, with 16% getting communications from electric bill inserts, 8% from co-op websites and 7% from social media, among other sources.

“We are urging the Postal Regulatory Commission to revisit and decrease these recent, burdensome rate increases,” Gates said. “These costs directly impact co-ops and their rural members, many of whom already face economic challenges.”