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Boxes of Blight now on Instagram, newspaper boxes still an issue 5 years after project’s launch

Circa 2012, an anonymous Tumblr popped up chronicling the “boxes of blight” littered throughout the city of Philadelphia. At the time, Jeff Sonderman covered the issue for Poynter, explaining:

More than just an artistic project, the blog aims to pressure newspaper publishers to comply with Philadelphia Official City Code 9-211, which says they should repair “any malfunctioning, vandalized or otherwise damaged box within seven calendar days of the occurrence of any such damage,” and keep “such box clean and free of graffiti, broken parts, pasted bills and debris of any description, including ruined or out-dated publications.”

Even the Daily Dot picked up the issue.

The Tumblr has been updated over the years, but now has expanded to Instagram, where hopefully it will reach a larger audience.

It’s 2017 and it’s a hard truth that these “courtesy boxes” (industry term) are mostly vestigial, artifacts from a business model prior. Majority of single copy sales happen at retailers, 75% according to the NAA. And I bet if you look at where the single copy non-retail sales are happening, it’s probably a minority of the overall courtesy box distribution.

For a newspaper brand, there might be some upfront cost in rehabilitating or removing this physical infrastructure, but it’s simply a failure of imagination if you’re unable to make up the difference on the backend. The courtesy box is pretty useless in its original function, but the form still matters and in fact is iconic. Own your brand! If they aren’t worth maintaining as distribution points for the analog product, consider how we might make them something new.

The best part? There are a bunch of ideas already tried & free for the taking! A sampling:

Or, try something new.

Do a contest, tap some technologists (I bet Drexel could come up with some cool ideas! Hit up Yungmoo). I’ve thought about trying local wifi networks there.

Maybe you could let folks access or whatever the site for free if they connected through a courtesy box; I’m sure Comcast could help underwrite the wireless! Internet Essentials has gotten much better since 2014.

Whatever you do, do something. Please! For yourself, for the city. Let’s get a good thing going.


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