The Economics of Paper Rounds

When I was a kid I had a paper round. I got up at 6.30, spent around an hour delivering the morning papers on my bike, then went to school.

It kept me fit, gave me unprecedented access to money, and gave me an early lesson in economics.

Paper rounds are not well paid. For the majority of my time as a paperboy I earned £10 per week for six days work. To earn that money I had to deliver papers to roughly 50 houses spread across an urban but hilly area. That works out to about 20p per household per week, or just over 3p per paper.

Some houses had modern, convenient, letterboxes which allow you to get the newspaper in quickly and safely. Others did not. Anyone who’s had a paper delivered through a letterbox that measures 1″ x 6″ knows that papers get torn. Generally the owner asks the newsagent to tell the paperboy to separate out the sections and post them through individually. Anyone who has tried to fit a newspaper full of sections and supplements into a letterbox like that knows that it takes time.

The longer the paperboy spends on a particular paper, the lower the return on time invested. If he delivers 50 papers in just under an hour, that’s roughly 3p per minute, or £1.80 per hour. Depending on the dimensions of paper and letterbox, spending time unpacking the paper and posting sections through carefully can sometimes take around 2 minutes, or more if wind, rain, or cold fingers add complications. Add in the travelling time between houses and that house is paying more like 60p per hour.

Add in the social incentive not to be late for school, and it seems understandable why paperboys sometimes let a paper get mangled rather than spend time “doing it properly”.

Looking at things from the other perspective, households who get a paper in the morning might have to fork out (for the sake of argument) £100 to replace their old letterbox with a larger modern one. Assuming that papers cost 50p, and 10% of the value of the paper is destroyed when the outer layers (usually with more important stories) get mangled by a letterbox, it’d take roughly 6 years to pay back the investment.

Unless the household values a nice clean paper more highly, or has other positive factors pushing them towards replacing their letterbox, going down to the newsagent to complain about yet another paper being torn by a lazy kid seems like the easy option.

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One Response to The Economics of Paper Rounds

  1. Mark says:

    You forgot to correct for modern day factors. Today’s kid also has to fight off at least six to seven knife weilding gangs. Also, most households can get their news either from the many 24 hours news channels or the internet now.

    Neither of these things helps the paper round logistics.

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