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February 24, 2012

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Dwindling news kiosks seek new products

THE hundreds of standard-patterned Oriental News Kiosk book and newspaper booths scattered around street corners have long been a unique Shanghai feature, but they are dying out in the face of fierce competition from new media.

Many remaining booth operators, suffering from meager revenues and struggling to stay in business, are urging the city government to save them by licensing them to sell other items, Shanghai Daily has found.

The common solution raised by the operators is allowing them to sell small grocery items such as drinks, snacks, napkins and playing cards alongside the print publications.

"Lifting the ban on selling small groceries would create a huge difference in our current struggling business situation," said an operator surnamed Xu, running a booth on downtown Weihai Road in Jing'an District.

The 55-year-old was among the first batch to enter the business when the Shanghai government initiated the booth program in 1998 to create jobs and boost the culture market. The booths are owned by a state-owned company and are outsourced to those who had been unemployed, many of them middle-aged people.

"I am only able to earn 1,000-plus yuan each month now, a figure that has barely changed from 10 years ago when I just ran the booth. Taking into account CPI rises (inflation) over the years, how poor is my income status?" Xu said with a somber tone, a mini-stereo inside his 3-square-meter booth playing songs of a Hong-Kong pop singer, which were popular a decade ago.

Like many of his fellows around town, Xu's seven-day-a-week job starts with riding his scooter to arrive at the nearest dispatch center about 5am to 6am to fetch stacks of newspapers and magazines.

"We all fetched the publications ourselves to save cost since the company charges logistics if we want to have them delivered to our booths," he said.

"Every operational cost is paid by the booth runners, with no support from the booth company," he said.

He said he must buy back about 10 percent of the print publications he puts on shelves each month, as the company will not take them back.

The growing operational costs and dropping customer traffic have caused most Oriental News Kiosk booths to close down in recent years.

Their number has dropped to slightly over 1,000, from a peak of over 3,000 a few years ago.


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