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Distribution: from hand-to-hand to boxes

The Brooklyn Paper
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When we began in 1978, as a newspaper for Downtown’s daytimers, most of our staff — editorial, production, advertising — would be at their distribution posts by 7:30 or 8 am.

Some of us had just finished a virtual all-nighter, but with little or no sleep we cheerfully greeted our readers, office workers pouring out of the subways or off the buses and into the area’s buildings for the start of a new day.

One distribution hot spot was outside 50 Court St., a Board of Education building, where a manager sought to banish us from the sidewalk in front of his entrance. The reason? On Thursdays, when The Paper came out, whole departments were slow to start work; desk after desk sported an enthusiastic reader and an open Paper.

We also distributed door-to-door in buildings like Court Street’s classics — 16, 26, 32, 44 and 50.

In 16 Court, a lawyer handed our staffer a note with the command, “Give this to Weintrob.” The note was from Rubin Ferziger, a close childhood friend with whom I had fallen out of touch. We had gone through elementary school and worked together on some Brooklyn Times projects during high school.

As I was starting The Brooklyn Paper in 26 Court, Rubin was opening a legal practice in 16. We renewed a friendship, and The Paper had found itself a lawyer.

• • •

Over the years, The Paper’s distribution system has undergone changes — from hand delivery on street corners and in front of office buildings, to home and office delivery, to bulk drops in stores, to on-street news boxes. Each method has its benefits and detractions.

In Brownstone Brooklyn, for instance, people appear to dislike the weekly circular bags that are dumped, sometimes in inexplicably large quantities, in front of their doors by the Marketeer. While I think this is mostly because the Marketeer is seen by Brownstoners as a waste of time (the package contains ads from distant stores and no local editorial content), even home delivery of The Brooklyn Paper has had its critics.

Over time, Brooklyn Paper home delivery was limited to new areas (as a means of introducing The Paper to people not yet familiar with it) and occasional promotions. Some publishers like to tout their home delivery percentages as proof of “total market coverage;” we’ve found it’s proof of nothing but “total market waste” which, ultimately, is passed along in the form of cut-rate quality or higher ad rates.

Our bulk-drop system, properly monitored, guarantees that virtually every copy we print ends up in the hands of a willing recipient.

Now, let’s talk news boxes. Use of on-the-street boxes are popular throughout the world; they, too, have both benefits and detractions.

We limit box deployment to areas where a sufficient number of Papers cannot be circulated in stores. We’ve never put boxes in unruly clusters, and we try to maintain our boxes and keep them in compliance with siting regulations. While fines for non-compliance with the new news box law can rightly be described as draconian (they can exceed $500 per infraction), the enforcement agency appears willing, at this stage at least, to give publishers a fair chance to cure violations without penalty.

Community leaders outraged by problem boxes should target the vandals who deface not only the boxes but other street property, as well. And they might take a moment to thank their community newspapers for providing an important service — for free — each week.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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