As newspaper readership declines, so do Toronto's finances

Journalists and printers are not the only ones affected by the decline of newspapers.

Newspaper boxes, recycling on the decline

If newspaper boxes continue to be removed or abandoned, there will be fewer than 200 in Toronto in 10 years. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

In 2016, the decline of newspapers is old news.

Daily subscriptions, advertising revenue and nearly every other measurement of newspaper performance has been trending downward for a decade. Those numbers led at least one analyst to predict there could be no print newspapers in the country by 2025.

That affects more than just the journalists and printers who work to produce the volumes of ink-filled paper pages that used to be a mainstay of Canadian cities.

As print media continues to give way to digital, there are ripples throughout Toronto's economy. With fewer newspapers in circulation, municipalities face revenue gaps in their licensing and recycling efforts, and other industries see increased operating costs as a result.

Check the boxes

Just as it is more difficult to sell newspapers, it's harder to buy them, too.

A report from the city of Toronto reveals the number of newspaper boxes has decreased by around 60 per cent in the last decade. Most of those newspaper boxes were removed as a result of declining production of newsprint, others have simply been abandoned.

The city charges a series of fees for each newspaper box on Toronto sidewalks. First, there is an application fee for boxes of $89.34. The first 100 newspaper boxes cost $35.11 each. After 100, the price for a newspaper box jumps to $140.75 each.

Those are the highest prices in North America, according to the city's own research. By comparison, the city of Chicago doesn't charge anything for newspaper boxes on its sidewalks.

Toronto is also one of the most active municipalities in enforcement of the newspaper box regulations.

In 2006, those fees produced $1.4-million in revenue, including HST, from 15,418 boxes.

Last year, the revenue from newspaper boxes was $870,178.02 from 7,266 boxes.

If the trend continues, there could be fewer than 200 newspaper boxes in the city by 2025. That would mean revenues would decline to next to nothing.

City officials do not see this happening however. Its annual report states it expects the number of boxes to remain steady or only slightly decline in the next year.

It pays to recycle

Fewer newspapers in homes and in boxes on the sidewalks also means less paper in the recycling bins.

For Toronto, newspaper recycling is a substantial revenue tool.

Municipalities pay for 50 per cent of recycling costs, while the private sector — all companies with packaging and printed material in Ontario's consumer marketplace — contribute the other half.

Toronto funds its recycling programs from two sources: property taxes and the sale of recycled materials. In an efficient system, the sale of recycled materials can cover the entire recycling operation.

Print media makes up a substantial part of those sales.

"Newspapers in a recycling system are the gold star," said John Hinds, the CEO of Newspapers Canada. "Newsprint is easy to manage and there's a great resale value. Newspapers are the anchor tenant of recycling programs around the world."

Indeed, the revenue from Toronto's sale of recycled goods was $23.7-million in 2015. It was more than $25-million in 2007.

Without newsprint, Hinds said plastic becomes the dominant material in recycling. Plastic is more difficult to transport and resell.

"I argue its a real transition to plastic — the composition of the system has changed," he said.

"When newspaper was the majority of the blue box, costs were much lower."

Ripple effect

The Toronto Star's Vaughan Printing Plant is pictured on Friday, January 15, 2016. The newspaper has said that 220 full-time employees and 65 part-time workers will be affected by a plan to sell it's Toronto area plant and outsource the work. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Fewer newspapers are being recycled, but the fixed costs of the recycling system remain the same.

That means other recycled materials — such as plastic and aluminum — must be turned into revenue to make up for the missing newsprint revenue. If not, the burden to pay more is placed on other industries.

In Montreal, the La Presse newspaper ceased print publication, opting instead for digital editions. That left a hole in that city's recycling program funding.

To pay the fixed costs related to recycling, other industries are being asked to make up the shortfall. (Like Toronto, half of the costs of waste diversion programs in Montreal are paid for by private industry.)

"There's a lot of good things about newspapers in a recycling system that create efficiencies," said Hinds. "If you see a decline in newspapers, it drives up the cost for everyone."

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