Out-of-town news blues

By: Joe Strupp

Online newspapers hit niche newsstands where they live


At Harvard University, Out-of-Town News is known as the place to go for virtually any newspaper or magazine. Since the Cohen family set up shop in 1955, just steps from the Harvard Square “T” railway station, customers have ventured to the newsstand to grab papers published in places from Toledo to Tokyo.
But, in recent years, the explosion of publications online has cut into Out-Of-Town’s business, managers say. They contend that readers who can get daily editions of The New York Times or The Washington Post via the Internet will no longer make a trip to their shop for a copy.
“We used to be the largest newsstand around for that kind of business, but the Web has killed us,” says Fred Cohen, who has managed the Cambridge, Mass., newsstand for five years and grew up watching his family build it into a Harvard mainstay. “I’ve lost 50% of that business in the past four years.”
Cohen’s plight is no exception.
Many large newsstands nationwide that built their businesses on publications from around the world have seen a decline in business, according to managers. Since nearly every newspaper now provides some kind of Web edition, they say fewer and fewer readers seeking news from out of town need to go to specialized newsstands.
“The Internet and things like 24-hour cable news and cnn have really put a dent in it,” says Cohen, whose family sold the business to New Jersey-based Hudson News five years ago. “It has gotten so that we have to sell other things like candy and cigarettes and film. We used to be strictly newsprint, but we can’t do that anymore.”
The story is the same throughout the country, according to veteran news hawkers. Most say that to survive they either have to move to smaller sites or add more products, including adult publications that some don’t want to sell.
“I don’t carry hardly any of the out-of-town papers anymore,” says Chuck McCormick, 15-year owner of Joe’s News in Miami, who says newspaper sales have dropped about 40%. “It really stopped about 18 months ago, and the cost of getting them is just not worth it.”
McCormick says business is so poor that later this month he is planning to move to a smaller location, which will be almost half the size of his current spot. He also plans to cut at least one of his seven employees.
“We did a pretty steady business in the past, and people used to pay in advance to make sure they would get The New York Times or The Washington Post,” he says. “Now it’s nonexistent.”
One of the biggest casualties of the out-of-town newspaper dip is Hotaling’s
News Agency in New York. It had to give up its 73-year-old home on 42nd Street in July and move to a smaller, cramped kiosk inside a visitor’s center a bit north of Times Square.
Owners Susan Carey and Arthur Hotaling, who took over the business their grandfather started in 1905, say the culprit is a dearth of out-of-town sales. “It’s the foreign paper sales that are really going down,” says Artie Frank, 63, a Hotaling’s employee since 1956. “The Internet is the reason. People can sit home and read it on a screen, [so] why come here?”
The cost and timing difference between the print and Web products are keys, owners say. When customers can call up a copy of The Irish Times or London’s Daily Mail online at no charge, they are reluctant to travel to the newsstand and pay up to $3 for a day-old edition of the paper.
Industry observers say the drop in sales for larger, broad-based newsstands is not a surprise given the evolving face of new media and alternative news sources. “I think computers are very hot, and people take less time to do anything these days, including reading newspapers,” says Tom Hoey, owner of North Area News in Sacramento, Calif., a newspaper distribution company that also owns Harold’s News in San Francisco. “People are not moving as much as they used to, either, and that was always a big part of it. People would pick up newspapers for classified ads from other cities to check out jobs and housing.”
At SuperStand, a chain of large newsstands in Houston and Dallas, manager Amanda Oubre says she is experimenting with a cutback in out-of-town newspapers at some stores to see if they are missed by customers. She says the high cost of bringing them in is not worth the sales.
In contrast, Grant Jardine, director of operations for Eastern Lobby Shops, a 120-store chain offering out-of-town publications, holds out hope. He says large newsstands can survive the Internet onslaught as long as people need something to read on a plane, train, or bus.
“I don’t think it has supplanted people’s need to pick up a newspaper, touch it, feel it, and carry it,” says Jardine, whose company operates newsstands from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. “It will only hurt us when they come up with a wireless computer that can be carried like a newspaper.”
Bud DeLauer of DeLauer’s Super Newsstand in Oakland, Calif., also offers a positive prognosis, saying that people still want out-of-town papers for things other than news. “We’ve gotten more foreign and smaller out-of-town newspapers than we ever have before,” says DeLauer, whose grandfather opened the store in 1907. “They come from people who don’t want news but want classified ads because they are moving and want to get help-wanted listings and houses for sale.”
But for most in the business, the situation is bleak, according to Herschel Weisman of World Book & News in Los Angeles, which has lost 20% of its newspaper business in the past two years.
“We’ve cut down on a lot of titles and copies of newspapers,” says Weisman, who has operated the store since 1976. “We have felt a real pinch in that regard.”
Dick Bomberger, owner of The Newsroom in Washington, echoes Weisman’s view and blames newspapers for allowing the Internet to steal thunder from the printed version. “When you don’t charge for it, you have a hit to the print product.”
(Editor & Publisher WebSite:http:www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 11, 1999) [Caption]

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