With a thud on my door, it arrived …

… The Labour Day issue of the Vancouver Courier. It even had a story I was interested in, a lead article on local food, and another on the sustainability of fisheries. Good on small-scale independent journalism, I thought, until the moment I took off its rubber band to reveal an inch-thick pile of glossy inserts.

Sure, all newspapers are guilty of this to an extent. But the sheer mass of this week’s issue, delivered unsolicited to my doorstop, makes me want to scream. And I meant thud — I had to get up and look out the window to comprehend what had just happened. I’m sure there are some people out there who like to look through the flyers for bargains or coupons, but I’m betting almost everyone puts them straight into the recycling bin, regardless of whether they go on the read any of the actual paper or not.

Intrigued by the two pounds or so of waste inserts, I began to scan the paper, not for additional stories of interest but for just how much news was in this thing. My tally: about 16 and a half pages of content in a paper of 48 pages (and I’m including the cover, table of content, “KidzBeat” back-to-school section and horoscopes, so the actual news content is much thinner). In a world without the Internet perhaps this glut of advertising would be the price to pay for good local news, but I scan more online content than this each morning before I leave the house.

The Courier is a free paper, so advertising must cover 100% of the costs of paper, printing, delivery and profit for the owners. At some perverse level, this venture makes economic sense, but in any real sense it is an astonishing waste of resources that makes no environmental sense whatsoever. And while the Courier generally has good coverage of local issues and Vancouver City Hall, I’m guessing we’ll never see any critical stories from them on London Drugs, Shoppers’ Drug Mart, Safeway or any of the other ten insert providers.

Now, we can recycle newspapers but the tragedy only worsens when we look deeper. In spite of the abundance of pulp and paper mills of BC, most of the municipal newspaper recycling gets sent to Asia for processing. And the fact that municipalities are on the hook for handling this waste is a cost to taxpayers not borne by the publisher. Minimally, newspaper waste ought to be fully recycled in BC and paid for by the producers. Until we do these papers should be banned.

Don’t even get me started on the Yellow Pages …


  • Shocking!!

    Consider this, my cell phone provider Bell charges $2.00 for the paper invoice.

  • I share your head shaking on this Marc. There is a transition going on to paperless world, but not fast enough for me. You nail it though- given the costs involved- and I mean not just private production costs- how can anybody even remotely say that this is rational behaviour. And given the much better alternatives- the question remains why is change so slow? Are markets not supposed to be the supreme form of efficiency?

    On a positive note- I did read the other day that one school baord here in Ottawa was seriously thinking about a pilot project that , in a couple of elementary schools, students would be given an ebook reader to replace the paper and lower the costs to the school board but akso free up the creativity of the teachers. Potentially text books and boring handouts are dead- or they ought to be anyway. I also like the fact that some teachers are making more use of the internet in communicating to us parents. However, there seem to be no standards, some teachers do not use it at all. However I have had a couple that made extensive use of email and keeping me abreast of my son;s progress.

    We need to change and it is not just cost that we should be concerned about.

    So the question is- why are retailers using such outdated costly modes. And why do retailers continue to advertise using such archaic means. I have not had a newspaper in my hands for a long time- I refuse to be taken prisoner to one single viewpoint. In fact I felt quite trapped the last time I read a hard copy newspaper.

    I really do not understand what is holding up this transition.

  • Yes Marc some people do enjoy looking through the weekly sales. Personally I have a “no flyers” sign on my door and look for the weekly sales on-line. If you have a hard budget and not much left over for extras sales matter (in Quebec even alcohol goes on sale!). My partner is an independent artist, we have a new baby (1 year, but she still smells new), and a mountain of student debt so we just do not pay sticker price for anything (unless it is university money where they insist you go through their suppliers…that is another story). I imagine there are many Canadian families who are devoted to the weekly flier pack. And sure you can go on-line as I do, but for others I think it is like journal articles for me; I like to print them out and make notes in the margins.

    At least paper is a renewable. Unlike most of the components in an IPAD:)’

  • I do understand that sales matter and given the cultural space of trying to find some notion of democracy and balance within the pricing and information thereof, I do think there are better ways to approach this.

    I also understand that not everybody is online- yet.

    Hence the slow transition.

    For example I do think schools should seriously think about moving to tablets in the education system. Paper may be renewable- but it is fixed and typically fast frozen. The children are way ahead of us- at least from my focal point. TV is ubiquitous- regardless of income- internet should one day be free, combine the two and you will be honing in on equal access to information. It is getting there now. In fact with the recent rumblings of google and apple TV, we might be a lot closer to a new phase within the fastly gaining traction information age.

    I am not so sure how efficient or creative paper can be anymore- given the moving interactive images. It will take a bit more taming of the production process in web design and informating such things as the sale price of local food stuffs- but innovation will lead us there. (I am just not so sure it is markets that are pushing it- more like conveniance and human efficiency0. In fact you could argue that local food retailers may actually be against some notion of full information. Especially when we get towards a situation where I can compare prices for everythng locally. I still cannot find out locally where to buy a bag of milk the cheapest- they refuse to tell me- hence my term democratic pricing information.

    Turns out my local Macs Milk also knows that I cannot empower myself to find the lowest cost for milk, and other assorted staples- so they give me 3.99 milk and solve the information problems. So in fact I could make the argument that at the heart of a market based economy- information is not what is driving innovation and hence the potential “slow transition”. It is like we, the consumer have to pull them there kicking and screaming. Oligopolies hate information!

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