Controversy has arisen between state-owned mail service Eesti Post and an organization representing private media companies in Estonia over newspaper and magazine delivery prices. While Eesti Post says that declining volumes require higher delivery prices, media firms are asking for a price freeze for several years.
A delivery price increase of 8.7 percent has been agreed for 2021, far in excess of what the Estonian Association of Media Enterprises (EML) wants, i.e. zero increase. At the same time, current law requires a minimum of one periodical delivery per day, six days a week, in order to keep those in outlying areas informed in particular, as well as the elderly, who are assumed by nearly all concerned as unable to obtain news online, meaning an impasse has been reached.
EML director Merle Viirmaa says traditional print media, particularly regional papers, will be decimated by planned delivery costs on the part of state owned mail service Eesti Post/Omniva, to the detriment of rural communities.
She told ERR's online news in Estonian that: "Regional newspapers delivered to homes by Eesti post in particular will disappear. Local communities do not have a range of choices of information channels as it is, and only regional newspapers provide local information."
Viirmaa added that 90 percent of readers of printed regional papers do not read online news.
Regional newspapers under threat again
Daily Postimees operates several regional online news portals, corresponding to several of Estonia's counties, including Sakala (Viljandi County) and Saarte Hääl (Saaremaa), as well as its Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu print editions. There is also a multiplicity of printed regional newspapers nationwide available, often covering small rural municipalities and sometimes funded by advertizing.
It is delivery costs of these which put such newspapers and newsheets under threat, Viirmaa said.
"However, it is necessary to maintain equal awareness and inclusion of all readers in society," she added.
The coronavirus pandemic has also brought the importance of public information and awareness into the limelight.
Postimees editor-in-chief Martin Raudsaar has previously said that there are three possible solutions: Dismantling state subsidies for Eesti Post and using the savings to train up the elderly in using online news, or, conversely, boosting subsidies to maintain home delivery, or price-fixing to ensure delivery costs do not rise over a period of several years.
Delivery prices will rise by 8.7 percent
Martin Raudsaar rejected a fourth possible option, canceling Postimees' Saturday edition. Both Postimees and Õhtuleht issue weekend editions, often the sole consignment for mail workers (home letter delivery does not take place at weekends) despite the economics; Õhtuleht has in the past issued paper editions for free.
Eesti Post plans to increase periodical home delivery prices by 8.7 percent in 2021, a rate reached by negotiations between it and the EML.
Eesti Post spokesperson Kaja Sepp told ERR that the guiding principle was supply and demand, in other words newspapers delivered in smaller volumes cost more per unit, though going forward, changes in volumes will be examined every quarter and home delivery prices matched accordingly.
These increases would necessarily have to be passed on to the consumer, which media companies are reluctant do do, preferring a zero rise Merle Viirma said.
Viirmaa said that the current price level should remain for five years, echoing Martin Raudsepp's suggestion that increasing Eesti Post's state subsidy as one possible solution.
Kaja Sepp of Eesti Post said that an ongoing action plan is being developed in conjunction with the EML, but that delivery price increases will come in due course. Nonetheless, it was not up to Eesti Post to dictate when and how often media companies should publish their newspapers or to eradicate print media.
Using an alternative delivery service such as DHL or UPS may also not be a solution as their prices may be prohibitive too.
Editor: Andrew Whyte