As Newspapers Go Digital-Only, Newsracks Disappear From The Streets

Feb 2, 2017

A lone Pittsburgh Tribune-Review vending machine, on the corner of Broad Street and Highland Avenue in East Liberty, is one of the few remnants of Pittsburgh's once-thriving print newspaper industry.

“We’re trying to get them all picked up but there may be a few out there we’ll have to get later,” said Alan Bowlby, distribution manager for Trib Total Media.

Last November, the newspaper ceased production of its Pittsburgh print edition. And now the vending machines that once dotted the city landscape have become nearly obsolete.

The dwindling numbers of vending machines, also known as coin racks, honor boxes and newsracks, from the landscape isn’t unique to Pittsburgh.

They’re a casualty of the nationwide decline of the newspaper industry and transition to online-only content.

At one time, more than 250 Tribune-Review newsracks peppered the city. Most have been collected and taken to the paper’s Newsworks facility in Warrendale.

“We take the ones that can be refurbished, cleaned-up and put them back on the streets in other markets,” Bowlby said. “The ones that have quite a bit of damage to them, we will just send those for scrap.”

Newspaper vending machines have been fixtures on city streets since the 1950s. Manufacturer Kaspar Companies based in Shiner, Texas, then known as Sho-Rack, over the decades shipped 2 to 3 million units to cities across the country between the 1950s to 1990s, said Chris DeLuca, transportation and purchasing manager for Kaspar Companies. 

In this photo made Sept. 29, 2009, a USA Today newspaper box is show in Charlotte, N.C.
Credit Chuck Burton / AP

Kaspar even manufactured USA Today’s newsracks, which could be found nationwide during the 1980s and early 1990s. Those white, television-shaped newsracks revolutionized the industry, said Sonya Gavankar, public relations manager for the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  

“USA Today changed the dynamic of how newspapers were being brought in real time all over the world," Gavankar said. 

The boom days of newspaper boxes for Sho-Rack ended in 2015, when the company stopped making them. 

"We’d buy so many a year to replace bad ones that were falling apart and so forth,” Bowlby said.

In addition to the transition to online content, the rising cost of newspapers is another reason for the loss of newsracks from city streets.

“The average person doesn’t have the coinage in their pocket. Now, the average price of the paper is two or three dollars,” said Steve Chalabian, vice president of K-Jack Engineering in Los Angeles.

K-Jack still manufactures newsracks for in-store displays, hotels, grocery and convenience stores. Chalabian said his company ships 300 to 400 newsracks across the country each month. 

While some see the loss of newsracks as emblematic of the decline of the newspaper industry, they aren’t gone from permanent view.

“We give them to libraries and I’ve even sold some to movie producers who want to use them in their shows,” Bowlby said.

Some newspaper vending machines have become museum pieces.  The Newseum currently has several in their collection.