In a few months, downtown newspaper readers will be able to pick up their Memphis Flyer, Commercial Appeal, and USA Today all in one place.
The Center City Commission (CCC) ordered 60 steel newspaper corrals to fit around multiple newspaper boxes and magazine stands located on the Main Street Mall and the area from Poplar Avenue to Peabody Place and Front to Second streets.
This means newspaper distributors will be asked to relocate boxes that are currently set up in areas independent of other publications' boxes.
"We're trying to improve the appearance of downtown," said Jerome Rubin, vice-president of operations for the CCC. "Right now, these things are seemingly randomly placed, wherever a publisher thinks might be a good place to have a box."
Rubin complained that many newspaper boxes are chained to public infrastructure, like light poles, trolley stops, and ornamental trees. In one of the more cluttered areas at Union and Second, eight newspaper boxes are positioned outside of Huey's.
"Not only will these racks provide for a more orderly presentation, it will also clear up the public right-of-way for people walking on the street," Rubin said.
Each unit will be expandable from 71 to 128 inches and should hold about five or six newspaper boxes. Rubin said he expects the 60 units should be able to accommodate every box that's currently located in the downtown area. The CCC is spending about $65,000 on the racks, and they should be installed by early December.
The CCC has cooperation from publishers of the major newspapers, including the Flyer, but Rubin said he'd not yet met with publishers of smaller free publications and guides.
Although the Flyer has 10 boxes along downtown streets, the majority of this paper's downtown distribution is through 39 racks located inside restaurants and businesses. Those racks will not be affected.
Though the CCC's plan to install corrals hasn't been met with much controversy, the process of installing racks hasn't gone so smoothly in other cities.
In the late 1990s, both the mainstream and the alternative press fought against a plan to install corralled racks in San Francisco and Indianapolis. News organizations expressed fear that the racks would jeopardize circulation, hurt brand loyalty, and force associations with third-party advertising.
In San Francisco, the racks contained advertisements. The CCC's racks have no space for advertising.
CCC director Paul Morris says the racks may actually boost pick-up for some publications since the boxes will be located next to one another.
"It's like when you're shopping at a grocery store and there's junk lying around, the product is not as attractive as it is when it's presented in a nice, orderly row," Morris said.
Though the CCC is asking newspaper publishers to move their boxes into the corrals, the program is not mandated by a city ordinance. Morris said the CCC doesn't plan to push for an ordinance unless newspaper publishers refuse to relocate.
"If it becomes a problem, we may have to figure out a way to regulate it," Morris said. "I'm against regulation to the extent that it's not necessary, so we're not proposing that now."