One of the familiar sights of a New York City commute – hawkers distributing free newspapers, principally amNewYork and Metro New York – is set to vanish in the near future, thanks to a new rule formulated by the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The new policy, approved last week by the MTA board, introduces a six-year licensing agreement that will prohibit hawkers from handing out free newspapers to passersby, forcing the newspapers to resort to passive distribution through newspaper racks.
The newspaper racks will be installed permanently at certain locations throughout the underground rail network, including the New York City Transit system’s subways, as well as the Long Island Railroad, Metro-North Railroad, and Port Authority facilities in the city at Grand Central Station, Penn Station, and elsewhere.
The prohibition on human hawkers includes the insides of stations but also approach areas, which are also under MTA authority.
The MTA said the ban was provoked in part by the hawkers’ habit of leaving stacks of unwanted newspapers in and around stations, creating a safety hazard for commuters, contributing to traffic delays, and increasing the risk of electrical fires on the tracks.
The free newspapers had bigger circs than their paid peers, at least until recently.
As of 2013, Metro New York distributed 313,000 copies per day, and in 2014, amNewYork had an average weekday circulation of 336,000, according to the publishers’ own media kits. By comparison, the paid tabloid Daily News had an average weekday circ of 282,000 in 2014, while arch rival New York Post had around 260,000, per the Alliance for Audited Media.
A big part of this success was their aggressive distribution strategy, relying on vocal, high-energy hawkers. In 2013, Metro New York employed 180 “ambassadors” around the city, while amNewYork employed 142 in 2014.
They were also helped by the lack of cell service in most subway tunnels, which forced commuters to resort to (gasp) printed reading material. However, this is also changing, as the MTA moves ahead with its ambitious plan to bring cellular and Wi-Fi access to all 279 underground stations across the city in partnership with Transit Wireless.