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Print Industry Troubles, As Analyzed by Chronicle Street Vendors

It ain't like it used to be.
It ain't like it used to be.

The newspaper industry hasn't been in the best of shape for a while now, and layoffs and buyouts and declining subscriptions are common.

Besides the employees directly affected, hard times have also hit the people who will sell you the Houston Chronicle while you're waiting at intersections across the city.

What are their thoughts on the print industry and the business of selling newspapers? We asked. With fewer work days (they used to be on the corners seven days a week) and fewer customers, these men say that, without the TV listings and coupons to push papers, they wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

Print Industry Troubles, As Analyzed by Chronicle Street Vendors
Photos by Whitney Hodgin

Joe Perry, intersection of El Dorado Boulevard and Space Center Boulevard in Clear Lake Q. How long have you been selling papers? Fifteen years.

Q. How many papers do you sell a weekend? We're not selling papers like we used to. I used to sell 140 a weekend, now I sell 80, if I'm lucky.

Q. Why do you think fewer people are buying papers? Some people say they just don't like the paper. Others get their news online, and some people get home delivery.

Q. What do you do to boost sales? I've got my regulars. I guess they like me. Most of my customers have known me for a long time.

Q. What else do you do to supplement your income? I sell used cars and move furniture.

Print Industry Troubles, As Analyzed by Chronicle Street Vendors

Oren Jones, intersection of Highway 146 and 518 in Kemah Q. How long have you been selling papers? Seven years.

Q. How many papers do you sell a weekend? 75-90.

Q. Why do you think fewer people are buying papers? They put a deal in the paper -- a card -- that gives them weekend delivery for a little bit of nothing. They're putting us out of business on the streets. But a lot of people told me they won't subscribe because I'm here. I'll be here even if it's pouring down rain.

Q. What do you do to boost sales? These people like me. I have a scripture of the day [written on a sign and held up for passersby to see.] I'm like a preacher. I donate all the canned goods people give me to the church. They've got money around here. I've gotten a $1,000 tip before -- 20 $50 bills from one person. People are very nice to me, maybe it's because I don't talk like a soul brother.

Q. What else do you do to supplement your income? I work on a liquor truck during the week.

Q. Anything else? I have to be very polite. And never flirt. The ladies can be sensitive.

I had a couple of Klansmen -- Thunder and Lightning -- bother me once. He revved his engine at me like he was about to run me over. I told him I'd pray for him.

The perception is that we're "papertramps." Homeless drug addicts, and this is their only job. Some are like that, but not all of us.  

Print Industry Troubles, As Analyzed by Chronicle Street Vendors

Henry Richard, Arlen's on Nasa Road 1 Q. How long have you been selling papers? Five years. Q. How many papers do you sell on the weekend? I sell less than 80 now. Used to be 150. I used to sell papers in League City, but the police cited us for soliciting so we had to stop.

Q. Why do you think fewer people are buying papers? Eight months ago they took the TV guide out of the paper so people would be forced to pay extra for it. I lost about 30 sales when that happened, because people were mad at the Chronicle. They put it back in a couple of months ago, but my sales never recovered.

Home delivery also hurts us. And with the Internet, they don't really need a paper.

Q. What do you do to boost sales? Most of my customers only buy the paper for the TV guide and coupons, so I make sure they know those things are included. Some people will illegally sell the coupons, but I don't do that. Q. What else do you do to supplement your income? I'm out here from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and this only pays 50 cents [a paper], so we don't even make minimum wage. But the Chronicle tells us to be satisfied because we are getting tax-free money.

If the Chronicle had their way, we wouldn't be out here because they want everyone to have home delivery.

Q. Anything else? People have the wrong perception about newspaper sellers. They think we're all homeless drug addicts. Women especially. But I'm 60 years old. I have a home. I took this job because my disability from the VA isn't enough to cover my expenses.

People in this area are Protestants and Catholics, and generally have a good attitude.

Print Industry Troubles, As Analyzed by Chronicle Street Vendors

Fred Dorsey, intersection of Highway 2094 and 146 in Kemah Q. How long have you been selling papers? Eight years.

Q. How many fewer papers do you sell now? I sell about 85 a weekend. Used to sell 100-plus.

Q. Why do you think fewer people are buying papers? Computers, phones, cable TV and the Internet. People can get the news before we get the paper. If it weren't for the TV guide and coupons, people wouldn't buy the paper. There's the sports section too, but you get more news watching the NFL Channel.

Q. What else do you do to supplement your income? I do warehouse work for a vending machine company.

Q. Anything else? I read this paper from front to back. Every single page, just about. I like to read the oddball stories. But if I had a computer, I'd get my news from it.

I get mad if my paper isn't delivered by 5 a.m., so I'd rather get my news at 4 a.m. online.

Print Industry Troubles, As Analyzed by Chronicle Street Vendors

Isadore Bell, Foodtown at 2040 Sunset Ave., in Pasadena Q. How long have you been selling papers? Four years.

Q. How many papers do you sell a weekend? I'll sell about 90 papers a weekend, but I used to do 200-plus papers each weekend.

You sell more papers in front of a store, rather than on a corner, because everyone's got to eat, so there's a lot of in and out. But you don't make as many tips in front of a store.

I would sell about 50 papers on the corner, but even then, some places have rules about no one standing on corners. [The Chronicle] used to sell on the streets seven days a week. They fired a lot of people when they reduced the days.

Q. Why do you think fewer people are buying papers? The Internet and home delivery. Just different news sources. Used to be the paper was the only way you could get your news. Some cities don't even have a daily paper anymore.

Q. What else do you do to supplement your income? I have to support myself with other jobs. I'll be working here while it's here.


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