Over the past two years, the number of print distribution boxes outside an Arlington metro entrance has increased slightly. In July, 2008, 30 print distribution boxes stood outside the Courthouse/Clarendon St. metro entrance. The number of print distribution boxes there is now 32.
At least six of those boxes have been abandoned. One of the abandoned boxes is for Bit 0′ Lit. As a little respected but highly insightful communications industry economist predicted, that publication lasted only a short time and was defunct by autumn, 2008. Requiring new boxes to post a bond to ensure their removal would raise business costs of entry, but foster cleaner exit. That trade-off seems to me well worth considering.
The four print boxes installed since July, 2008, offer narrowly focused publications. The broadest of these is Asian Fortune. It is an English-language newspaper serving since 1993 the pan-Asian community in the greater Washington area. Two other new distribution boxes offer publications serving family needs: Washington Parent and Pet Lovers Companion. The Washington Post owns the former, while J&K Marketing Inc. owns the later. More narrowly focused content, both in print and online, allows advertising to be more effectively targeted and thus generates higher ad rates.
The most interesting new distribution-box publication is Energy of the City. The distribution box currently contains a 108-page glossy magazine labeled “premiere issue” and dated Summer 2009. This beautifully produced, high-quality magazine is subtitled “Natural Gas Eco-Friendly Design and Lifestyle Magazine.” Washington Gas, the DC-area natural gas distributor, owns the publication. It includes some advertising and some articles that were probably sponsored. It almost surely isn’t a self-sustaining publication. Energy of the City’s website duplicates the magazine, including the sound of pages turning. That approach indicates an traditional media mentality. It shows little appreciation for new-media opportunities.
Print-distribution boxes located in public thoroughfares provide a valuable information distribution network. Just as for on-street information kiosks, figuring out how to better use print-distribution boxes in our new media circumstances is an important challenge.