GLOUCESTER-Steve Lanning is proud of what his company, Bluewater Publishing, produces and so are the tens of thousands of service members who have ordered one of his cruise books that documents deployments for the Navy, Marines, Army and National Guard.
The first book he produced was for a 1991 deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Since then, his books have qualified for what's called the media mail shipping rate, a discounted price from the U.S. Postal Service for mailing items such as books. He often sends hundreds of books at time, so the rate saves him money.
Suddenly last month, Lanning learned no can't ship under the media mail rate, so that has increased his shipping price by more than $7.00 a book.
He says this could compromise contracts he already has with the military, which pays for a portion of the books for its crews.
"I can't go back and redo my contract with the government," explains Lanning, who's appealing the decision issued by Gloucester Postmaster Tracey Sigler.
Sigler says recent communication within the postal service about media mail prompted her to re-examine the regulations on what qualifies for the discounted rate. She says Lanning's books are more like yearbooks that don't consist "wholly of reading matter" like the regulations stipulate.
Lanning says he has yet to get a clear definition of "wholly reading matter" and feels like he's being picked on after 22 years of mailing the books with the media mail.
He says he believe his competition, including Amazon.com, is still getting the lower rates.
Other postmasters are supporting his effort. One sent an e-mail to superiors in Richmond stating about Lanning, "He is the largest mailer in Gloucester and brings in the most revenue. We have lost his respect in this matter."
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st District) sent a letter to the postal service on Lanning's behalf and Senator Mark Warner has assigned his case to a staffer to further investigate.
In a letter responding to Wittman staffer Patty Diggs, USPS Richmond District Manager Jeffrey Baker wrote, "In reviewing a copy of the book, Mr. Lanning provided as an example of that he wishes to mail using Media Mail service, our Manager of the District Business Mail Entry Office has advised that Mr. Lanning's item does not qualify for the Media Mail rate."
The book, which documents the last deployment of aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, has many pictures and includes text. Sigler says it must be primarily text in order to qualify for the rate. Lanning wonders if each of his books will now have to inspected to see if it qualifies.
USPS spokesperson Michele Martel says the issue is now in the hands of the Postal Service Headquarters in Washington DC and a decision is expected any time now. She insisted the postal service is not targeting Lanning.
"Media mail is subjected to inspection at any time. It's not only Mr. Lanning, believe me. There's random checks going on all the time. We're not grubbing for money or anything like that."
To add insult to injury, Lanning says the postal service is holding several books that he shipped to the wrong address and were returned to the post office. Martel says it's standard procedure for the sender to pay the media rate again to have items returned to their possession. But Lanning says he's outraged that the post office wants him to pay the regular rate to have the books returned to him. Meanwhile, customers are waiting.