Painfully absent in the conversation about how newspapers are transitioning to digital and the evolution of the next printed media product is the erstwhile loud voice of newsboys selling the morning edition.
“Mura’g wala nama’y nahinumdom namo (We seem to have been forgotten)” says Francisco Enghug, 47, amid declining newspaper sales in the age of social media and the Internet. “Wa ko kadungog nga dunay gi (I haven’t heard of anyone calling for a) meeting para (for a) solution.”
But media bosses do see a future for the print media industry — one where a re-imagined paper, containing more detailed narratives and catering to a more demanding readership — goes hand-in-hand with news online and in social media.
And in this version of the future, agents of distribution and circulation still play a pivotal role in pushing the printed product.
Enghug has his misgivings but said it’s workable. He contended that despite the continued deepening of Internet penetration in his market, newspaper sales have stabilized for the last two years.
“That means naay (there are) readers,” he said.
But this new printed product must cater to a more heterogenous audience for its distribution to be rationalized and, as such, remain lucrative for people such as himself.
Presently, printed publications are very diverse. One media house can have several printed products, catering to several niche audiences.
Enghug and his four children have been delivering newspapers to a network of 20 stores cum newsstands and street sellers in the Municipality of Cordova, Cebu, half an hour’s drive from his home in Basak, Lapu-Lapu City, since 2006.
In their heyday, he said, his group could dispose of over a thousand copies of English and local-language local papers and national dailies combined every weekday and Saturday mornings and remit upwards of P10,000 to their supplier the following day.
“On Sundays, makabaligya ko’g (I could sell) 300 copies of Sun.Star at P20 per,” he said referencing the years 2006 to 2012. “Nindot ang panginabuhi ato (It all made for good living). Naka palit mi’g mga (we bought) motorcycles and naka pa (sent the kids to) college.”
Good days gone bad
Gross profit, Enghug recalled, would be an average of P2,000 daily, at a margin of P2 per newspaper sold. This excluded the cut newsstands and newsboys take for their own effort.
It’s a significant enough figure, given Cordova town’s profile — a third class municipality of 13 barangays and 34,273 people of voting age as of 2016.
Over the last three years though, he has since reduced by half the the number of papers he takes from the supplier. Even then, he said, he still cannot sell it all.
On Sundays, he now only takes 30 of the weekend editions and says he is fortunate if his network of vendors can sell 10 copies.
“Nihinay ta’g anam-anam mga (sales slowly started to decline in) 2012,” he said, adding that it stabilized to the present low sales figures in 2016.
“Naay uban niundang na lang og pamaligya (There are a few who’ve abandoned selling newspapers)” he said, adding that at least one fellow sub-dealer in the Cordova area has quit while a handful of newsboys have resorted to selling bottled water, rags and other trinkets on the streets.
Enghug cites two reasons for declining sales.
“Mas ganahan mga taw mubasa sa (People like reading from their) cellphone. And its free,” he said.
Moreover, instead of innovating the physical product, media houses reinforced the trend by migrating their content online.
“Ilang gi kompetensyaan ilang kaugalingong (They competed with their own) product,” he observed. “Giapas nila ang (It was their way of still capturing) advertisements,” Enghug said.
And when circulation income declined, he said, they jacked up the price.
“Dili na gyud seguro malikayan. Pareho ra gyud seguro mi sa telegrama kaniadto. Niabot ang panahon nga namatay (Perhaps there is no way around it. It’s no different with telegrams. It’s time ran out),” he lamented.
He suggests media bosses to study the sales performance of existing printed materials and draw lessons from what paying readers want and need in determining how the next printed product should look.
He maintained that the reading public should be given incentive to continue patronizing printed news. He recalled that coupons that could be cut from certain newspaper pages and used in selected supermarkets make newspapers hugely popular before.
In the meantime, Enghug will continue plying his route and delivering his paper.
He said he makes ends meet by diversifying — supplying spring rolls on consignment to the same stores that sell newspapers for him. His has sent all his kids to find work to help out.
“Lets wait and see,” he said, still staying hopeful.
He wishes though that newspaper bosses consider the contributions that people like him had back in the day and help them out now.
There are some things the bosses can do. One is to accept “returns.”
Enghug and other sub-dealers pay “at cost” every newspaper that gets unsold.
At cost means P7 for every unsold weekday and Saturday copy of Sun.Star Cebu (P16 for Sunday editions), Cebu Daily News and Banat newspaper; P7.50 for every unsold copy of Sun.Star Superbalita; and, P8 for every unsold weekday and Saturday copy of the Freeman (P14 for Sunday editions).
“Wa pay namalit, bayad pa gyud ka sa wa nahalin (Fewer people are buying newspapers, and we still have to cover the cost of what’s unsold),” he lamented. “Bisa’g kana lang, dako na kaayo nang tabang (If they stop that, it would help us a lot).”