Why I prefer two weeks and no price change 

Jeffrey McNeil selling papers. Photo by Will Schick.

When I heard that Street Sense was going back to a bi-weekly paper, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief.

At this moment, the environment isn’t conducive to a weekly edition. Washington, D.C., reeled by lockdowns, hasn’t recovered. Although they loosened Covid restrictions, people still haven’t returned to the city. 

The summer months have always been a terrible time to sell newspapers, but this summer was vicious, and many businesses have shut their doors. 

I would like to keep the paper for two weeks and keep the price at $2 because Washington, D.C. is a transient city. Many of my customers take vacations, so if I miss one week or if they do, they can try to find my articles online. But this has been a nightmare because the site is not updated, and I have to hold onto old papers or ask the editor to post it, which is tedious and burdensome. 

Another reason I prefer two weeks is that I believe Street Sense got away from being a paper that gave voice to homeless people. Rather it has become a space for homeless activists, lobbyists, advocates and other professionals. I noticed that vendors’ voices are usually put in the art section, while professionals did all the opinion writing. In my view, this alienates readers that want to hear a homeless voice on tent encampments, high rent and the policies that affect them, and not the views of a particular social service provider. 

Additionally, I do not understand the logic of people who are advocating for raising the price, as the Street Sense Media CEO had alluded to trying to do in a recent Washingtonian article. The Washington Post was $2 in 2013, and every time they raised their price, they ended up laying off more people instead of increasing paper sales. 

If you were having problems selling the paper for $2, why would paper sales increase by raising the price? 

As a successful vendor, no one asked my advice on how to sell papers, but for some reason, Street Sense Media asks vendors who are losing customers. 

Going two weeks gives customers time to digest the paper instead of becoming like the Washington Post or a daily newspaper facing extinction. 

Two weeks is perfect because – while the old-school vendor happily sits in the hot sun trying to sell a two-week paper to the same 20 people – in the second week I can try new areas and always have new people buying the paper, 

I hear grumbling from vendors, but they must realize that you control whether the paper grows to sell weekly or daily or stays at two weeks. 

If you want to return to weekly, you must sell papers. You can’t rely on management, people coming back or the metrics that once worked. There are many forces, such as artificial intelligence, apps and Venmo, that explain why sales have decreased. 

Don’t be a Luddite. Embrace the change 

Refrain from taking it personally, but accepting cash has become archaic and outdated. You can increase your sales by using Cash App, Venmo or the Street Sense App. I have been mocked and refuted, but the more tools you have, the more chances you have to increase your income. 

Spend money to make money 

Many problems are created when too many people wait on management for decisions when they can be proactive. 

Why don’t vendors meet and figure out what works and throw out what doesn’t? 

Invest in cards and flyers because your customer can donate to Street Sense. 

Use social media

If you write a column, post it on Facebook and Twitter. Promote your work! 

Say “celebrity vendor working here today.” Make a video. 

If you are happy making $30 a day, good for you, but why not make $30 an hour if you decide to make Street Sense your occupation? Some of us have been with the paper for a long time. We have been down this path before. I hope people will humble themselves, listen to successful voices and avoid destructive decisions such as raising the paper’s price. 

I said what I needed to say. Only time will tell if sanity prevails over panic and hysteria. 

Jeffery McNeil is an artist, reporter and vendor with Street Sense Media.

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