Honor boxes: the low-tech, overlooked newspaper distributors

    With all the squawking about new media technology and it’s bearing on the future of news, let’s take a moment to check in on the business’ oldest technological way of getting you your morning paper: The honor box.

    Not surprisingly, fewer and fewer people are using this old-school technology.

    John Murray, spokesperson for the Newspaper Association of America, says there are a number of reasons why. That pesky Internet, yes.  “The coin combinations — everybody always had a quarter in their pocket. Who’s got 7 or 8 quarters, ya know?” Murray said.

    Philly newspapers buyers know — they’ll be rooting around for an extra one by the end of the month.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Sales from honor boxes are a part of what the newspaper industry calls single copy sales. And single copy sales are, believe it or not, up.

    “The sales at over-the-counter locations — convenience store, drug store, grocery store, book store, restaurant, coffee shop — have grown,” said Murray.

    Not for the trusty honor box.  All those places Murray just listed take credit cards. Which is also good for impulse buys.

    Tablet computers could actually be good for single-copy sales, says Murray.  After all, a commuter reading an online issue on their iPad is still, well, reading an issue. But that doesn’t help the honor box, either. “I don’t think it will be left alone to rust, that poor honor box,” he said. “I see a world where there’s fewer and they’re just in strategic locations.”Murray says that suburbs, lacking the widespread 24-hour convenience of urban retail, will likely hang on to the boxes for a while longer. As will, he says, the streets of Florida where, even if they have to do it with a few extra quarters in their pocket, retirees still enjoy the routine.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal