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The strange decline of the paperboy

Boy delivers newspaper

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

People in many areas of the country struggle to get a newspaper delivered. It's the burning issue in the world of the newsagent - where did all the newspaper boys and girls go?

Becoming a paper boy or girl is a rite of passage for many children.

Perhaps more than any other part-time job, it educates the young future worker about the importance of getting up in the morning, of punctuality, of steadfastness.

POSSIBLE FACTORS IN DECLINE
Rising pocket money
Other job opportunities
Concerns over safety
Linked to tiredness in school
New regulations

While the rest of childkind slumbers, lost in a dreamscape of gaudy electronics and instant gratification, the hardy paperboy ventures out into the gloaming so householders can have their news in time for breakfast.

But all is not well in the world of home news delivery.

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents represents thousands of shops across the country. At its conference this week, one of the topics of conversation that is preoccupying members is a sad decline.

Newsagents' pain

Stefan Wojciechowski, head of news and magazines at the NFRN, says while no exact figures are available, it is estimated anything up to a third of all independent newsagents have given up home delivery in the past five to seven years.

There's competition from supermarkets and convenience stores, people are commuting such distances that they leave the house before delivery is possible, and newspaper sales themselves are in long term decline.

It was horrible - the papers were heavy, it rained every day, it was cold and I wanted to sleep but couldn't because I had to get up at 6.15
Sarah Pine
Ex-papergirl

But most of all an absence of paperboys is causing newsagents pain.

"Kids don't want to do paper rounds because of increasing pocket money and other ways of earning money," Mr Wojciechowski says.

Joe Kelly of Direct News, in Garston, south Liverpool, realised 18 months ago that morning newspaper deliveries would have to stop.

"We just couldn't get the paperboys. We used to have a book full of names. We used to do 10 paperboys but it was gradually dropping off. Basically, they seem to have got too much cash. The majority seem to have unlimited funds from mum and dad."

Deliverers of news were typically 14 or 15 and could earn 10 a week for 20-25 minutes work per day. But no more.

And like the decline of the village post office, there are consequences wider than just people not being able to do the crossword while eating their egg and soldiers.

Boy carrying newspapers reporting outbreak of World War II
Young people have been delivering the news since time immemorial

Kelly has lost 50 copies a day in sales, but he worries about the loss of community glue that the decline of the paperboy represents.

"Some of the elderly people we deliver to, they form a relationship with the paperboy. On a couple of occasions the paperboy has come back and said there's a problem at this house. It is a lifeline for some."

Brass in pocket

But is it rising pocket money that is causing the paperboy to stay a-bed?

Young man delivers newspapers in America
The paperboy is an institution in other countries

A Halifax survey of pocket money certainly seems to indicate that it has risen much faster than inflation. Between 1998 and 2004, pocket money rose more than fourfold, from 1.76 to a whopping 7.82 a week, although it has now stabilised at about the 8 mark.

According to the same survey, in 2007 19% of working seven- to 16-year-olds had paper rounds, compared with 35% in 2004.

It's clear that there could be other factors at play - others sources of part-time work and parental concern about early starts and safety.

But those who do get up so early in the morning get to see a unique world. Their comrades are milkmen - suffering their own decline - early bird shop owners, sundry binmen and recycling crews.

There are downsides. It can be decidedly chilly at six in the morning even in high summer. Paperboys learn to hate the one far-flung address on the route, the house with the mad Jack Russell, and the infuriating owners of original Victorian doors with original tiny Victorian letterboxes, through which a meaty Sunday newspaper will not pass.

Bridging gap

And paperboys gain an entry into the world of work. Walking or cycling provides exercise, but the process of fine-tuning the round is even more valuable. The paperboy learns to maximise his efficiency and map out the most ergonomic route because the incentive of getting back indoors is so strong.

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"It is a very good way of bridging the gap between school and work," says Mr Wojciechowski.

The big newspaper groups have already seen the danger of the decline of the paperboy. The Times offers to organise delivery for customers, passing their order on to a newsagent. It's also experimenting in London - where the ratio of delivering newsagents to people is the lowest in the country - with doing the delivery itself.

"People who get copies home delivered read the paper more and stay with us longer," says David Walker, head of fulfilment at the Times. "We realise there is still a massive demand from readers. It's up to us to make it as easy as possible."

Of the 14,000 delivering newsagents in Scotland, England and Wales, only 7,000 are actively seeking new business. The other 7,000 are contemplating getting out of the home delivery business. There are already areas of cities where it is a struggle to get a paper delivered and this will worsen.

The future might be "roundsmen", Mr Wojciechowski says. "Successful, sustainable home news delivery will probably be using vans and adults covering a much wider area."

Rain, cold

Sarah Pine, 15, is one of those who has tried paper delivery and decided it's not the ideal job for her. At the beginning of last summer she started a round in Orpington on the outskirts of London.

"I was really lucky because I had a short round and because my house was in the middle of the round," she says. "My sister had another round. Her round went very far away."

But after six months, Sarah realised that the 15 a week wages were no compensation for the negative aspect of delivering the news.

"It was horrible. The papers were heavy, it rained every day, it was cold and I wanted to sleep but couldn't because I had to get up at 6.15. My hands were really cold. If it was raining you couldn't have an umbrella - you needed your hands to do the papers."

Now early starts are solely due to GCSE revision and Sarah - who receives 17.50 pocket money a week - is no longer tired in school, but the paper round did offer one social advantage.

"I liked the fact I could say I worked for my money rather than being seen as spoilt."


Here is a selection of your comments.

I used to love my paper round, rain or shine I'd be out on my BMX delivering. I remember the sunday loads that were massive compared with the weekly loads. I remember one morning my wet hair frosted over because of the cold, as well as the spiderwebs that would always get you in the face in the spring time. I think mostly it taught me that I could earn my own money and gain a small amount of independence at an early age; that was important to me then.
Peter, Warrington, UK

Why do people seem to think that kids would enjoy a physically demanding, low-paid job any more than an adult would? My brother and I used to deliver the local free paper. Every Thursday we spent about two hours delivering to two streets for a total of 6 between the two of us. It taught me the value of money and the value of hard work - I realised the work I was doing was worth more than they were paying me so I quit.
Steve, Peterborough, UK

I worked as a paper delivery girl for three years from 1966 to 1969, in those days the papers did not have so many supplements. I sympathise with modern day delivery boys/girls as the newspapers are so heavy and contain so much rubbish.
Sue Beale, Ipswich

Between 12-16 I delivered early morning papers in my hometown of Southport and relished the responsiblity and independence it bestowed. My three older brothers had all delivered the same paper round as me as well as afternoon local paper rounds. All four of us are now hardworking, successful professionals grown from the acorn of the morning deliveries. What goes a(paper)round comes around.
Louise Coward, Leeds, UK

In this day and age parents are afraid to allow their children out so early in a morning or in the dark evenings due to the ever increasing violence that we are witnessing, especially in remote areas or streets known to have a history of yob culture. It is a great pity because it gives children a sense of independence and also exercise which is sadly lacking in our TV. and computer-besotted era.
E Whitham, UK

For two years, I did two paper-rounds a day, which took upto an hour. On average, I had to deliver 30 papers which were quite spread out. Day in day out, I had to deliver, even in torrential conditions. What I hated most was having to deliver in a rough area, where older boys would kick my bike as I propped it against a wall to deliver papers.

Overall, I earned around 60 a month for delivering a grand total of 720 papers. That works out around 8 pence per paper. And considering the job must be done in all weather conditions and rough areas, it's no wonder there's less papergirls/paperboys.
Nicholas Hatter, Bristol

About six years ago, when I was 13, I worked for a newsagent doing a paper round. I enjoyed being able to work for my money and it was only at the weekends so I wasnt tired for school. But a lot of the time I had to do 3 or 4 rounds each morning as other kids stopped turning up. Then the newsagent decided to stop delivering so I moved to another shop. They paid OK. 20p per newspaper delivered which worked out at about 20-30 per week. But it did include early mornings every morning. When I was that age, pocket money was minimal and I can see now that kids get a lot more. I think that parents are giving their kids more money so that they dont have to go out and work as many parents are worried about the safety of their child. I feel sad that this is the case as doing paper rounds gave me a good start in learning how to earn money and gave me independence.
Claire Haynes, Malvern, Worcestershire

I did a paper round and they were scarce. Getting a round that paid well often spilled over into politics of the playground. But, it was bloody awful work and I certainly wouldn't wish it on my kids. Early mornings, heavy (and long) Sundays (and this was before supplements). The newsagent paid a pittance and wouldn't think twice about handing the round on if you couldn't make it for a few days because of illness. Less to do with pocket money and more to do with awareness. Kids now wouldn't get out of bed for it. And I for one don't blame them.
Paul, Windsor

Our paperboy is wonderful, come rain or shine, I always make sure I give a good tip at Christmas, but the way some of my neighbours moan if he is late with the paper, is dreadful. Also we are lucky we live in a built up area so he is safe, but would worry if he had to go into blocks of flats or dark areas in the winter for his safety.
H, Surrey

I used to have a paper round through the local estates, it was afterschool however would take me an hour a day, which when you times that by the 5 day week was only 2 an hour. Even a 15-year-old can see that it's not worth the money. Expecting children to carry that number of newspapers on a daily basis is terrible. I done it for the summer but stopped as soon as it started raining, just wasn't worth it.
Duncan G, Reading

The experience of Sarah Pine sums up why kids wouldn't do it. These young workers realise that if they don't study at school they'll end up in similar menial jobs for the rest of their lives. Maybe they should make it compulsory as it may show some more that lessons and homework aren't that bad.
Jack, Surrey

I had a paper round which went to the other side of the town I lived in, sure it wasn't fun in winter or the rain, but you appreciated your money (9/week). To hear that the average wage is only 10/week 16 years later is a bit sad. Even paperboys and girls need to be compensated for inflation.
David, Letham, Angus, Scotland

10 per week? That's more than I earn here in India. Send me a visa you guys in the UK and I will do the paper delivering for you there.
Ravi, Chennai, India

My son has stuck with his paper round for 3 1/2 years now, he delivers evening papers 6 nights a week. It's good exercise for him and he likes having the money. The reason why children taking up the job is in decline is obvious in my mind. They are simply not paid enough. He works six nights per week, the round takes an hour and he gets 10 per week. If he misses one day, he doesnt get his full week "bonus" so only collects 7.50. I'm surprised he's stuck it so long and if this is the sort of monies other children are being offered, it's little wonder the agents are stuggling to find deliverers. Pay them a decent wage - its hard, back breaking work.
Julia, Hornsea, East Yorkshire




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