November 11, 2008

Newsstands sell out as papers become Obama-bilia

The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times haven’t been able to keep up with demand since last Tuesday’s presidential election.

“This blows everything out of the water,” said Michael Dizon, Tribune communications manager.

Dizon said that although the Tribune normally prints 700,000 copies of its Wednesday papers, high demand prompted it to print 1.1 million copies of last Wednesday’s issue, in which Obama’s victory was declared.

“We have seen the White Sox win the World Series, seen the Bears win the Superbowl, but we have never seen anything like this,” said Willi Wilkov, senior director of marketing for the Sun-Times.

The moment is especially sweet for struggling newspapers and for newspaper retailers who have seen circulation drop in recent years.

The Walgreens at East 55th Street and South Lake Park Avenue couldn’t keep the newspapers on shelves. Store manager Kevin Crowley said eager customers came in following the delivery trucks.

“The drivers couldn’t get in the store,” Crowley said. “Everyone wanted them straight off the truck. I’ve never seen anything like this in all of my retail experience. We could have sold 10,000 copies.”

As the only newsstand in Hyde Park, owner Dashreth Patel’s business exploded. He has sold upwards of 1,500 extra papers every day since the election. On Sunday, Patel saw three-hour lines for special Sunday editions.

MarLa Duncan, a fourth-year who followed a Sun-Times truck to Patel’s stand, was in line that day.

“I woke up early, 8 a.m.—or so I thought—to grab one and come back to sleep,” she said in an e-mail interview.

Instead, Duncan waited for two and a half hours.

“I got to know the people in line pretty well,” she said, noting a Lab School teacher who had seen the President-elect this week for teacher conferences.

Patel, who has run the newsstand at the corner of East 53rd Street and South Lake Park Avenue for 15 years, limited his customers to two copies. But across the city, would-be entrepreneurs bought newspapers in bulk, and today eBay and Craigslist are flooded with sellers offering their copies to collectors across the country for far more than the newsstand prices. The papers are now selling for hundreds of dollars, marketed as the ultimate collector’s item.

There is still a last chance for Chicagoans, though. The Sunday edition of the Tribune, which also sold out, featured a collection of historical Tribune covers chronicling Obama’s rise from senator to president, but demand has prompted the company to run a second copy of the insert, titled “Obama’s Rise” in the today’s edition.

At the Tribune, Dizon attributed the overwhelming demand to the keepsake status of newspapers.

“A newspaper permanently documents major historical events,” he said. “Our goal is that everyone who wants one can get one.”