Distributors Pull Newsracks as Ashland, Ore., City Fee Kicks In

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Newspapers and independent distributors pulled their newsracks off the streets of downtown Ashland, Ore., this week as a new $25 annual per-box fee kicked in.

“We pulled some [racks] Monday after we analyzed some of the sites and found the turnover in newspapers was just so minimal it made no sense” to pay the fee, said Duane Wolfe, single-copy distribution manager for The Ashland Daily Tidings and Mail Tribune in Medford.

The dailies paid the fee for two boxes downtown and have a third newsrack at a no-charge site set aside by the city, Wolfe told E&P. The Dow Jones & Co.-owned dailies are also distributing two free publications, Oregon Health and Living and a real estate book that is currently on hiatus — through three paid sites and a free site.

But some independent distributors went much farther, pulling most of their racks because the fee would erode an already slim profit margin.

?I pulled every newsrack I had except for three sites in downtown Ashland,? Susan Dorsett, the owner of F & S Distributing told E&P. Her company handles The Oregonian of Portland, The Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle in Ashland.

?They want $25 per rack per publication — and I?m sorry but this isn?t the kind of business that making that kind of money any more,? Dorsett added.

So far the impact has been minimal except on sales of the Chronicle, but Dorsett said she will see serious shortfalls when out-of-towners flock to Ashland for its famous warm weather Shakespeare festival. ?What does it say about Ashland that you can?t find these papers here?? she said.

Peter Quince, who handles distribution of The New York Times and USA Today, said in a Daily Tidings story by Vickie Aldous that he removed nearly all his boxes, which were earning between $5 to $30 a month.

The fee was adopted to target the plastic boxes used by a variety of free publications, said single-copy distribution manager Wolfe, who was involved in the discussions as the city worked on drafting the regulation.

“At first they were proposing a fee of $58 per site, and of course that raised some eyebrows, not only for the free publications but for the newspapers,” he said. The reduced fee is supposed to go to purchase modular racks, also known as gang racks, for installation in 2012. The legislation setting the fee has no sunset date, he noted.

Newspapers are looking into whether the fee can be legally challenged, publishers told the Daily Tidings.

Curtis Hayden, owner of the free Sneak Preview magazine, declined to pay the fee, saying the small publication would likely be lost in the modular racks. He has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about challenging the fee, he told the paper.

Meanwhile, he is concentrating distribution from inside restaurants and, in one case, a recessed area on a restaurant’s private property that is just off the public sidewalk.

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