Friday, 21 September 2012

Happy (Early) 50th Birthday to the British Philatelic Bulletin

The British Philatelic Bulletin reaches 50 years next September, and, fortunately, appears to be undergoing something of a rebirth. The Bulletin, as it is known, is a monthly non-commercial (but see below) publication of Royal Mail.

Many postal administrations publish a periodical featuring new and current issues, related items for sale, and perhaps one or a few articles relating to the stamps being offered. As far as I know, Royal
Mail is unique in offering a true magazine for stamp collectors.

The Bulletin is not a catalog of items for sale. It includes articles about new issues, but these are just one part of the whole. It also includes other Royal Mail news, reports on philatelic events (recent and upcoming), and well-researched articles on a variety of topics.

Since the Bulletin’s primary purpose is to inform, not to sell, its cost must be covered, and so there is a fee for an annual subscription or individual issues.

The Bulletin was introduced in September, 1963, four months after the formation of the Philatelic Bureau. Both events were part of the Post Office’s efforts to serve stamp collectors better and thereby increase philatelic revenue.

The first issues of the Bulletin were simply typewritten text on two-sided A4 paper. After two years it was converted to an A5 size magazine format, which it retains to this day.

There were no illustrations during the first two years. As a treat to subscribers, the third issue (November, 1963) included an advance copy of the upcoming single-stamp Trans-Pacific Cable (COMPAC) issue on the front page. This is an actual stamp, overprinted CANCELLED in red and glued to the front page. It is pictured above. (The overprinted stamp is listed in Gibbons’ Specialised Catalogue Volume 3 and priced at £35.)
In recent years, the Bulletin has not led a charmed life. As its format and editorial content continually improved under a series of talented editors, its financial situation was precarious. Several times it was “on the bubble,” that is, under consideration of being discontinued. A couple of years ago, Royal Mail tried out-sourcing it to a private company, but this proved unsuccesful, to say the least.

Fortunately, rather then terminating the publication, Royal Mail has brought it back in house. It is now being edited by William Doherty, Royal Mail Stamps and Collectibles Magazines Manager. I don’t know if this is a new position within Royal Mail, but I hope its existence indicates a long-term commitment to the Bulletin and perhaps other publications.

I noted above that the Bulletin has been a non-commercial publication. There were never any advertisements except for Royal Mail products, and these were quite limited. However, this policy is obviously changing. The back cover of the most recent issue has an advertisement from a London hotel.

If some advertising revenue helps keep the Bulletin alive, then I’m all for it. There were hints last year that the cost of a subscription would go up, but that hasn’t happened. Hopefully, Royal Mail can make the Bulletin a going concern with cost control and some outside revenue along with subscription fees.

The subscription cost is, in my opinion, quite reasonable. It is £12.95 per year within the UK and Europe and £17.95 per year elsewhere. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but compare those prices to over £40 per year for Gibbons Stamp Monthly in the UK and much more elsewhere. (To be fair, Gibbons now offers online access to GSM for a very reasonable £15 per year.)

I should mention that Douglas Myall has been a regular contributor to the Bulletin for more than a decade (with a brief hiatus during the out-sourcing turmoil).

You can subscribe to the bulletin here (for UK/Europe) and here (elsewhere). Even with all the information available on the Internet, there is still much in the Bulletin that you won’t find elsewhere, or at least not all in one place. If you are not sure about subscribing, you can order an individual issue from Tallents House and see it for yourself. I recommend it.



Ian - Norvic said...

You note the 'rebirth' of the Bulletin. In my view it needs urgent improvement:

1. to ensure that it's issue is timely, not just 2 weeks before competitions close!

2. it needs to be accurate in all its information about Royal Mail's new philatelic products.

3. it should ignore the many things which are covered in other philatelic magazines.

Re 2, you will note that the 'forthcoming issues' in September's issue includes a definitive-sized poppy stamp, which is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bulletin, and of which we have heard nothing from Tallents House.

It seems the lead time for production (ie from deadline to being in our hands) is much longer than that for, eg, Stamp Magazine.

Trelantis said...

I nearly cancelled my subscription this year after more than 40 years, but decided to give it one more year. It's now more of a magazine than a philatelic publication. Actual philatelic detail is woeful (example - no details on the source code/year overprints. I know RM consider this as a 'security issue' but they should be well aware that these are easily visible and widely collected.) What's more, it's often two weeks into the month before it arrives. It needs a complete overhaul and revamp with collectors' needs to the foremost.

GBStamps said...

Thank you for your comments. I hope the new editor works on improvements, especially accuracy and timeliness.


Ian - Norvic said...

If the job was still done in-house, or by a philatelist as it was when John Holman was in charge I think it would be a better product.

Trelantis said...

Larry - once you consider all comments on the Bulletin are in, perhaps you could collate them and forward to the editor so our views are known and recorded. Thanks.