Sunday, December 14, 2008

The death of the newspaper boy

It says in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that home delivery of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News will be cut back drastically in a cost-cutting move.

Delivering newspapers used to be a lucrative occupation for a kid. In the 1950s and 1960s, the kid who had a Cleveland Plain Dealer route was like the owner of a sports franchise. It was a monopoly -- you bought the rights to a territory, and it was a license to print money. Everyone on the block took the paper, and I took home $12 a week.

Kids don´t deliver newspapers any more, for a variety of reasons. Parents gave too much credence to TV reports of child abductions and wouldn´t let their kids go out in the dark.

Adults take over
Adults wanted the work and could do it in a more businesslike fashion. No more would the kid show up every week at your door asking for 75 cents -- the new way was to pay with a check by mail or a credit card. And an adult with a pickup truck could deliver several hundred papers in a morning compared to maybe 50 by a kid.

The newspaper delivery service by this former newspaper carrier, though, was way better than what any adults provided. Drive-by adult delivery meant your paper ended up on the lawn or the driveway. From my older brothers I had learned to fold and throw a paper so that it ended up just below the door on the side with the doorknob. The customer barely had to open the door to retrieve the paper. On windy days I put it inside the storm door.

Having kids deliver papers turned out to be too troublesome for the newspapers. Now it turns out, it´s too much trouble to deliver the papers at all. That might be a small part of the problem newspapers are having. Not the biggest, but a sign of losing touch with their customers.


  1. Amen! I used to deliver papers, too. It was a great way to make money for a kid. Mark is currently in a war with our delivery fellow. I'd say he misses our drop about 20 percent of the time. We're on the fone constantly with the circ. folks but it doesn't seem to make a difference. But -- he didn't forget to drop us an envelope for his holiday bonus. Unbelieveable.

    julie t.

  2. Jim, The Oregonian also is doing this -- not delivering at all to Eugene or some other formerly targeted markets.