Requiem for the Newspaper Vending Machine

Can you guess how many U.S. sidewalk newspaper boxes The New York Times still operates?

There are a couple of fun U.S. tidbits in Toronto Globe and Mail media writer James Bradshaw’s weekend piece about the current state of coin-operated newspaper vending machines.

One is that when sidewalk demand for boxes was at its highest, the North American manufacturing end was dominated by a company in Shiner, Texas called Kaspar Wire Works. The other is that The New York Times street box imprint is currently down to almost nothing:

The New York Times has only 39 coin-operated vending boxes left across the entire United States – 36 in western states, three in Georgia and none in New York – that sell “very few newspapers,” a spokesperson said. The company hasn’t bought a new box in more than five years, instead funnelling single copies to 45,000 retail outlets – mostly convenience, grocery and drug stores, as well as coffee shops.

That’s 39 more than the Wall Street Journal, which per Bradshaw has done away with U.S. vending machines. In Canada, Postmedia Network Inc. still operates about 3,500 vending boxes across the country, while the Toronto Star is down to about 1,000 from a once-upon-time high of 4,000.

Like us, some of you probably well remember the pre-Internet days morning routine of having to find the right spare change to snag a copy of that day’s edition from a nearby vending box. And of course, more often than not, dealing with a box that happily accepted the coins but then did not open.

For more on the history of the U.S. newspaper vending machine, check out Newsweek staff writer Max Kutner’s excellent recent piece “As Print Journalism Declines, Fate of Sidewalk Newspaper Boxes Is Unclear.”

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