The Publications Assistance Program (PAP) benefits some 400 community newspaper members to the tune of about $4 million per year, but it does so with a set of guidelines that are increasingly irrelevant and even punitive.
In attempting to target resources to ÔÇÿsmallÔÇÖ community newspapers, the program limits participation to those with paid circulations of less than 10,000 in communities with populations of less than 10,000. It limits ad content to 70 percent of total space, including freestanding flyers and house ads.
The difficulties and inequities created by these guidelines have been discussed in these pages many times before. To the credit of the Department of Canadian Heritage, it has spent the past two years studying the community newspaper sector, attempting to understand its various business models and identifying its most pressing needs.
The overall program is severely constrained and is beginning the show the flaws in its basic design. To begin with, the overall funding of $46.4 million is fixed and unlikely to be increased. While publishing associations have raised the issue of under-funding, we all recognize the difficulty, politically, of getting more funds. Adding to the problem is the fact that the program is held hostage by Canada Post, which has been collecting increases on Publications Mail far in excess of inflation.
Finally, the program suffers from lack of focus. According to the departmentÔÇÖs own numbers, almost 65 percent of funds go to less than five percent of titles, including publications such as TV Guide and TV Hebdos. This fact alone, along with the realization that any change in the program will create winners and losers, makes a redesign of the PAP difficult.
While still in very draft form, the department has begun discussing its plans for the redesigned program. Many of our concerns have been addressed in principle but several operational issues must be worked out.
The department is looking to harmonize the rules between PAP and CMF (magazine fund). One idea is to create a component for ÔÇ£Small Community Based PublicationsÔÇØ with less than 20,000 circulation and less than $500,000 annual sales. This could be for paid or unpaid circulation. While the specific benchmarks are open to negotiation, the basic principle would remove the need to deal with limits on population size, type of circulation, etc.
The department also proposes a separate component for Higher Volume Publications where circulation is greater than 20,000 and revenues greater than $500,000. Subsidies would be at a lower rate and they would diminish as both circulation and sales increased. This deals with the need to reduce support to the very large publications while targeting resources to smaller, community based publications.
The department wishes to expand its support to ethno-cultural publications under the same basic rules. Thus, community is defined not only as a geographic community but also as a community of interest.
The department wishes to move away from a set ÔÇ£reference tariffÔÇØ to a percentage of distribution costs. At present, the program sets a base tariff that all publications pay regardless of distance traveled and weight (to a max. of 200g). In future they would pay a percentage of the total distribution costs. This percentage would vary based on volumes mailed and total revenues earned by the publication.
While the department appears open to including free publications in the program, they envision doing so within the confines of Publications Mail. This works fine for request circulation trade publications that are mailed to specific persons at specific addresses. It doesnÔÇÖt work for controlled circulation newspapers that are distributed by Unaddressed Admail.
Finally, the department proposes to create an Infrastructure Development Component to fund initiatives of associations such as CCNA and the Ethnic Press Council.