The one dollar newspaper

Call me some sort of radical, but here’s a simple proposal that I think could provide newspapers with a big boost in single copy sales, and profits, too:

  1. On the rack or in the box, your newspaper now costs one dollar. When was the last time you paid less than a dollar for a bottle of water? When was the last time you paid less than a dollar for a cup of coffee? Do you really think the majority of readers who buy single copies are going to stop buying them because now they don’t have to figure out how many nickels they need? Which brings me to…
  2. Your boxes now accept dollar bills. Again, when was the last time you worried about whether or not you had exact change for a soda machine? Don’t make me think about having quarters in my pocket (I never do) or where I can get change. Modernize those boxes so they actually look like machines anyone under the age of 65 might interact with on a regular basis.

That’s it, just two steps to better sales. Add a credit card swiper to the boxes if you really want to get wild.

(This idea came to me while posting a comment on John Hassell’s Exploding Newsroom blog – check it out.)

[UPDATE: Yoni Greenbaum posts a comment with a link to the best newspaper boxes I've ever seen.]

17 thoughts on “The one dollar newspaper

  1. Only one problem with the dollar-bill part. How do you power the box? Batteries (which can get costly) or solar? Most boxes aren’t near an electrical source to power the dollar-bill reader.

    The reason why boxes work now with change is because it’s completely mechanical, not electrical.

    That said, I would more readily buy a paper off the street if I could use a dollar bill, because I almost never carry change with me.

  2. Kiyoshi is right. Another issue is that many of our boxes are in a line with other daily newspapers that are being sold for 50 cents. I’m afraid that readers are price-sensitive enough to buy the paper that is half the price, even if it is not the exact one they want.

    That said, it would be fun to try it in a few selected markets, see what happens. What do we have to lose, other than a few sales? We’re doing that already.

  3. “We could all use a little change.”
    -Smashmouth

    I like the general concept because I never carry change either and still enjoy hold a paper in my hands.

    Going out on this limb even further (and assuming these boxes are powered), why not have a blank below-the-fold? That way, when you purchase the paper, it prints the latest news in brief while you still have your main day’s news/feature above-the-fold and all the inside content.

    Or even a news kiosk that prints tab or 8.5×11 papers on-demand with ALL the latest news. This would be the drunken love-child of an old newsstand and El Pais’ 24 horas (elpais.com/24horas).

    Stay with me for a minute. You’d have these strategically placed in high-traffic areas, such as metro and bus stations, government centers, shopping malls, business districts, etc.

    It may not the most practical idea, but it’s a good marriage of portability and timeliness. I don’t mind reading news on my smartphone, but I think a lot of people would prefer this kind of product on-the-go. You could print it with at what ever size font you want and even customize what you want to read. Don’t read sports? Double your business section. Like pictures? Print photo stories.

    How about the ultimate one-stop-shop: It dispenses coffee or tea for another buck. Heck, throw in a muffin.

    I’ll stop these mutterings for now. Any thoughts or suggestions for this hair-brained scheme?

  4. @Kiyoshi – Let’s assume the outdoor boxes have a PV solar panel on them. Heck, we have garbage cans powered by PV out here in Santa Cruz.

    @John – But I don’t carry any change, so faced with your paper for a buck and the competition for fifty cents, you’re my only choice. That said, if all I want is something to thumb through with a slice of pizza, a free alt-weekly wins every time.

    @Greg – We’re not trying to sell our print edition to a breaking news audience here – they have their mobile devices for that. But your model is the right track – I think that’s close to what we’ll see eventually from e-paper.

  5. Ryan – Why not make your boxes free? If in the end the web is where this industry will make it’s last stand, then it’s about driving print readers to the web. And you have the chance to reach the greatest number of print readers with a free product (you can still charge for home delivery, so you’re not completely giving up on that revenue stream). As you yourself just wrote “if all I want is something to thumb through with a slice of pizza, a free alt-weekly wins every time.”

  6. Point taken and I agree. Perhaps I made it sound too much like a breaking news vehicle, as opposed to an updated news vehicle.

    E-paper definitely has a lot of possibilities, but I don’t know how long it will take us successfully implement it to a point where it’s the product we see in Minority Report. I’m definitely in favor of pursing it to the fullest.

  7. Ryan – My previous comment aside, it turns out that, despite comment to the contrary, your idea is feasible. Turns out that Press Sentinel, Inc of Michigan makes the battery-powered NewsVend+ which accepts cash and dispenses change (more at http://www.pressentinel.com/newsvendplus.htm) and are already in use in Europe. A nice looking box, no idea how they differ in cost from the traditional racks made by Sho-Rack.

  8. @Yoni – Ah, now it gets interesting. I can count on two hands the number of newspapers I have purchased in the last five years off the rack or out of the box.

    But I’ve picked up one of two local alt-weeklies at least once a month, and for long periods I was grabbing one every week.

    Again, who is the competition here? I read local news online, but when it comes to hanging out with a print product, I’m much more likely to grab the free paper out of the rack.

  9. Really? $1? Agreed that I like the idea of being able to use a dollar bill to buy a paper. But I’m cheap when it comes to media, and $1 would almost always be too much. The only time I buy rack papers is if I need something to read over lunch or if I’m hopping on transit for a bit. In those instances, the value of the paper is short-lived. It’s essentially disposable and not worth $1 unless it’s the Times. A good, warm cup of joe from Peets, on the other hand…you can’t put a price on that. :)

  10. Ryan – Go totally free AND keep daily home delivery.

    If the current cover price is meant to subsidize the cost of distribution – going free would reduce your distribution, marketing and customer service costs and increase your circulation.

    Then, start charging more for the TMC advertising and sell online first.

    You could eliminate a lot of expenses and triple your circ overnight.

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