editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Are your newspaper racks working for or against you?

December 22nd, 2007 · 7 Comments

I don’t know about you, but I would never buy something from a store whose sign was falling off, that had graffiti scrawled on its walls, a window that can barely be seen through and a door that was dented — not to mention products that weren’t always current or were frequently sold out.

Yet everyday, newspaper companies throughout the country ignore local ordinances and expect readers to purchase papers from coin-operated newspaper racks that look just like the store I described above. Increasingly, they want customers to put more money into racks that may not work properly, may not even contain newspapers, look as if they were in an accident and are surrounded by trash. And management at these companies wonders why single copy sales aren’t growing?

I think that the industry needs to give more thought to how they treat their customers.

I know lots of attention at most newspapers goes into customer service. They fret about how much time callers spend on hold or the number of times they are transfered. They guarantee delivery by a certain time, they even worry about how dirty reader’s hands get while reading the paper. So shouldn’t they have the same degree of concern for where they sell their newspapers? If a bricks and mortar store wanted to sell newspapers and looked like the place I described in my lede, would a newspaper really let them sell their papers?

There was a time when newspapers were the main game in town, when circulation was plentiful and readers, quite frankly, were often taken for granted. But those days are long gone, newspapers are now fighting to grow online numbers, while maintaining their shrinking print circulation. And as a result, they must rethink how they treat readers and potential readers.

In previous posts, I suggested that the “A” section be used for local content to address the reading habits of most readers and that the Saturday newspaper be killed in favor of saving limited funds and resources, these I maintain are the types of efforts newspapers need to make if they are going to save their print editions, let alone their businesses.

When it comes to newspaper racks, appearance and maintenance is key. A clean rack in working order, not surrounded by trash or weeds, will make people feel good about purchasing your product, and make it clear that you appreciate their business as well. I know that racks aren’t cheap or easy to purchase, they can run $500 and it’s not like a company can just run to the corner and buy one. Refurbishing, replacement parts and stickers can be a nuisance, but all are necessary. Newspapers should also remember that these boxes are free advertising, stickers and rack cards should include both the print information AND the web information.

I recognize that these suggestions aren’t as radical as my previous ones and an argument can be made that as people carry less change, these pay boxes are becoming obsolete. One could even say that coin operated newspaper racks should be replaced with free racks (while maintaining paid home delivery and store sales), but I think those ideas — which I think are worth exploring — are to be left for another post.

Tags: Best Practices · Branding · Industry · Innovation · Local Newspapers

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ryan Sholin // Dec 22, 2007 at 12:04 pm


    One day, walking to work, I noticed that the first paper in every box had a “HUEY LEWIS GETS A NEW HEARING AID – SEE PAGE 3” post-it over the flag.

    “Shit!” I thought, “Some wise-ass printed these things up and paid their quarter to open every box and slap these things on our papers.”

    See, the paper is known in town rather derisively as the “Senile” instead of “Sentinel.”

    An amusing and brilliant joke regarding the relevance of the news in the paper would be to have made up the Huey Lewis joke and slapped the post-its on.

    So I get to work, “alert” the circ manager to the “problem, get up to my desk, open the paper, turn the page, and right there on A3…

    …a half page ad for a hearing aid company, featuring aging rocker Huey Lewis.



    This is only related because that’s the day I found out we outsourced the care and feeding of our boxes, and that was the explanation for why they were in such bad shape, untended, with years-old promo cards in them for sections that had come and gone.

  • 2 Ryan Mercer // Dec 22, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    We too have the sticker issue, but wouldn’t it be great if circulation folks everywhere, at the very least, took the stickers/wraper ads/or anything else that detracts from seeing the news from at least the display paper in the window? I don’t mind seeing them on my home delivery paper, b/c I pay for it. But in a box never rocks.

  • 3 Pat Thornton // Dec 22, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    There are a lot of people at a lot of newspapers who are just clueless as to why people aren’t into newspapers anymore.

    This is just another prime example. But instead of trying to do something about it, higher ups will blame readers, Craigslist, the economy, Global Warming or whatever other bugaboo they can think of.

  • 4 Craig McGill // Jan 6, 2008 at 7:41 am

    There’s a couple of points here. First, newspapers aren’t going to retreat from the outlets they are sold in for two reasons:

    1) they need to be everywhere so that they can be picked up. Circulations are falling quickly enough without making it harder for people to find and buy the product.

    2) newspapers are for all people so if they pull out of the poorer/messy shops – which will traditionally be in poorer areas – then the newspaper is failing in its duty to be universal for all (or at least available to all)

    3) $500 for a rack. You would need at least a few thousand to start adequately covering an area – less for a local paper admittednly – but for the same sort of money you could boost your news coverage – online or off? What to do? Hire new boxes or more staff…

  • 5 Craig McGill // Jan 6, 2008 at 7:44 am

    And yes, that should have been three reasons…

  • 6 Suzanne Lindgren // Nov 28, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    I know I am late responding to this, like a years worth but I have seen it for the first time!

    Don’t fret with messy boxes, we refurbish newspaper boxes and have 21 years experience doing so, at a very fair price.

    Rak Systems, Inc.
    5500 Plantation Road
    Theodore, AL 36582

    Tell them Sue sent you. Thank you, Suzanne Lindgren

  • 7 Keven Zepezauer // Mar 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

    I’ve got a local guy here in Greenville, NC that I use to refurbish all of Cooke NC Communications newsracks. He’s good, cheap and has great turnaround time. If you want his info, shoot me an email and I’ll get you in touch with him.

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