Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Paper Boy?

English: A boy on a bicycle with a Toronto Sta...

English: A boy on a bicycle with a Toronto Star newspaper carrier bag. Whitby, Ontario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past weekend, I started training for a part-time job as a newspaper carrier. An acquaintance of my wife’s took on a second job delivering newspapers but is finding the job overwhelming and was looking for someone to take over a couple days out of the week.

So far, I have only been there for three days and haven’t actually done any actual delivering of newspapers. His route has 500-700 papers and there isn’t enough room in his Camry for a passenger.

Luckily, the delivery part is actually made pretty straight forward. Each night, you are given a detailed route list that gives addresses, which side of the road the house is on, and even how many houses from the last one or turn you have to travel. It’s kind of like GPS on paper. If I was the distribution center, I would invest in a smartphone app developer to write a navigation program to provide that information electronically. By pushing that, they could save a fortune on paper and ink.

I had never thought of newspaper delivery to be particularly arduous. Kids on bicycles used to do it, after all. But carriers arrive at 1am to start rolling papers in order to have them all delivered by 7. For the Sunday paper, inserts take so long that some carriers arrive as early as 9pm. That means that newspaper delivery isn’t a “couple hours in the morning” gig. It is a full-fledged, full-time job. And not a particularly well paying one at that.

Newspaper Delivery Income & Expenses

Newspaper carriers are 1099 contractors who are paid per paper delivered. While this distribution center doesn’t operate this way, in some areas, the carrier has to actually buy the newspapers and collect payment from customers. I don’t know what the exact rates are for this company, but I’ll be looking at about $40/night after taxes.

On my first night, I learned that the distribution center was shortly going to be responsible for delivery of a small, free weekly in addition to the 4 local papers and 3 national papers the already cover. I mention this because this paper pays “pretty well” at 8 cents per paper. Of course it also means that I (or Will) will have to deliver an extra 500 papers on Sunday mornings. And an extra 2-3 hours of rolling papers.

When I was kid, we had the paper delivered and it was rolled up in a rubber band. Now, all papers are delivered in bags. Of course, rubber band or bag, the carrier pays for it. At least when papers were bound with a rubber band, carriers had options for buying them. You could shop around for the best price. Newspaper bags, however, you buy from your distributor. Ours cost a penny each. So 12% of the pay for that weekly is going back to the company!

Since newspapers are printed 365 days a year, carriers have to work 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year. That means reporting for work before and after every holiday, working while sick, and needing to find someone to cover your route if you ever want to take a vacation again.

Doing the math, if I had this route full time, I would work some 2300 hours a year to make $14000 after taxes.

Other Newspaper Delivery Pitfalls

If you decide to deliver newspapers, be prepared to get your hands dirty. By the time I finish rolling newspapers each night, my hands are absolutely black from ink. Your hands will also cramp up from rolling papers. And of course, 3-4 hours of start & stop driving each night will absolutely destroy your fuel efficiency and wear out your car faster.

Have you ever delivered papers? Would you ever consider it?


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33 thoughts on “Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Paper Boy?

  1. Ya, newspaper delivery is not exactly lucrative. While I was growing up, there was a family (ahem, whose decisions I fundamentally disagree with), that had a paper route like the type you’re describing. They had a van and the father and 2-4 of the kids would do the route, with the back of the van open and the father driving slowly down the streets. It seemed like a logical way to go about it. (Except for the part where you had 8 children that you couldn’t afford from the start and now your children are basically working the nightshift to put food on the table. /rant)

  2. I see people delivering papers in their car in our area all the time. I sometimes wonder if they are actually making any money or if the company is paying for the petrol. I watched one day as this lady was in the car and drove house to house, in and out. I shook my head and wondered but have never looked into what kind of money they make. I heard dropping the bundles off to carrier and shop drop offs is decent money for the work involved though. I’m sure somewhere on Canadian Budget Binder I’ve spoken about being a paper boy and how it was the beginning of my money making journey. I was young but when the money started rolling it so did my business mindset. I was very responsible making sure my customers were happy and received their paper on time and at all costs. I learned that money doesn’t grow on trees and that after school or on the weekends I had a job to do. The values I learned as a child has helped me grow into the adult I am today. If any child wants to become a paper boy or paper girl I would encourage it. Great post.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..Why Has My House Not Sold?My Profile

    • Our papers are delivered to the warehouse by semi, actually. I’m sure that having a paper route as a kid was very different than todays deliveries

  3. I delivered papers for a while when I was a kid. We’d have a big bin for the papers in front of our house & around 4am every morning the paper company would drop off that day’s papers for my route. All I would have to do is get up shortly after that and deliver the papers. I quit because I wasn’t (and still am not) a morning person! I can only imagine how rough it would have been if I had to prepare the papers like you described and then deliver them!

  4. Sadly this must be a dying industry. I rarely buy a newspaper and would not want one delivered at all. The way things are, you can get all your news delivered better and generally for free down the wires. Free newspapers are of course paid for by advertisers. Similarly, there is so much competition these days for advertising that their rates will fall and quite possibly the free newspapers will become a thing of the past too.

    So enjoy it while you can. It seems an awful lot of work for not a great deal of money.
    John@MoneyPrinciple recently posted..Credit Scores – Knowledge Is PowerMy Profile

    • I don’t currently, but I have gotten the Sunday paper in the past because the coupons in the paper are different than the online coupons available.

      I’d also like to say that newspapers may be dying, but they certainly aren’t dead. I estimate that our warehouse moves at least 20,000 newspapers each morning.

  5. My brother and I had a paper route when we were younger. Ye gods. The memories are flooding back from your post; the ink-blackened fingers, hand cramps, papers splayed all over the living room and needing to be rolled/stuffed with inserts, the hand cramps as a result of rolling hundreds upon hundreds of those puppies. And that was all before we even set out to deliver for hours in frigid temperatures all around town!

    I do not miss that gig. Waitressing was properly better money for similar effort.

  6. one of our boys did the rubber bands collect fromthe poeple route for awhile when he was a teen… paper deleiver guy says he makes about 25 to 20 bucks an hour…our daily paper is only four days a week and he is a retired guy with a beat up car….but snow and rain and wind and cold he has not missed a bet in four or five years….by the by when i was 28 till i was almost fourty i worked as a carpenter by day and milked cows for a nieghbor seven nights aweek 365 days a year 3 hours a night and yes my childern and wife would somethimes go along…it’s just how we did it back then….got along just fine…and that was with lay offs almost every winter inthe 80s and 90s… retired with a couple part time jobs and loving it to death….

    • Both of my grandfathes milked cows growing up as well. It does get you thinking about how as a society, we’ve moved to a concept of work that says we need breaks from it.

      • I think I lean the opposite…we don’t need a break we need structure every day, I do not understand how anyone can just do nothing all day- day after day….. on the other hand my dad always said,” a change was as good as a rest”………that is one thing I liked about construction change,(framing, finish work, concrete, labor, about the time you tire of a job it is done and you move on)….so I now say “a change is better than a rest”….

        • I agree. My wife sometimes complains if she had to work 7 days in a row before getting a day off. Personally, my record is 93 days at the farm I used to work at

  7. I’ve always wondered about delivering newspapers. I never did it as a kid, and I see some adults doing it as full time careers (multiple routes of course), and I was thinking about it.

    It seems tempting in a way, the delivery is some enforced exercise. It saves you the gym membership if nothing else!

    Thanks for a great write up! I learned a lot!
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  8. Walt Disney was a paperboy along with his father and brother, and was paid nothing. They kept all the money. He wakened at 3:00 a.m., delivered papers in the dark, came home and napped before school, where he dozed and failed. But delivering papers apparently builds character!
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  12. Wow, I didn’t realize that you have to pay for the bag that the paper goes in…that’s ridiculous! I had considered doing a route part-time a long time ago but after reading through this I don’t think it’s something I’d consider. What would make it worse for me is that I’d have to drive 20-30 miles just to get to the distribution facility and that would be time/miles I wouldn’t get paid for!
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  14. I have not delivered papers. Even with detailed maps, I’d probably still get lost. My husband’s aunt delivered the Denver Post for years as a side job. I remember her being late for Thanksgiving a few times because of all the Black Friday circulars. It’s amazing that so many people still get the newspaper. Doesn’t sound very fun, but I guess 40 bucks is 40 bucks.
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