News kiosks: A dying cultural icon in China

By Zheng Danrong

Every morning Chen Feng gets up and goes to the nearby news kiosk, where he has been working for 10 years. But the work is getting tougher.

“If I buy three newspapers in the morning, then I will still have to return these three papers back in the evening. Nobody wants to buy newspapers anymore,” Chen said.

Thirty-five-year-old Chen owns a news kiosk in the Tianhe District in Guangzhou. He was born with motor neuron disease. He cannot move quickly or carry heavy objects. That’s why he got the opportunity to own his news kiosk, which is usually made available for the disabled and the unemployed.

“Ten years ago, the daily turnover of my news kiosk would be more than ¥300,” he sneered, “but now I will be pleased if I get ¥100. Usually, it is lower than ¥100, especially on such a rainy day.” As he spoke, raindrops fell from the dark sky and hit the upper iron news kiosk cover, sounding like di da, di da, di da.

News kiosks, a cultural icon, are experiencing difficult times.

The number of news kiosks in China has been falling in recent years. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the number of news kiosks fell from 5,377 in 2011 to 4,706 in 2015. in China. Not only is the number of news kiosks is decreasing, but the income of the news kiosk owners has fallen. News kiosk owners work long days, often as much as 10 to 12 hours a day while getting a small monthly salary of about ¥3,000.

The main reason why news kiosks are falling is the popularity of online reading, which has changed people’s habits. People no longer hold something in their hands to read except their cell phones.

“I bought this magazine, not for reading,” said Lin Pingping, who was buying a magazine at the news kiosk. “I work in a gym, so I plan to use the pictures in the magazine as samples for my patrons. Now people hardly read anything in the paper. If you want to read something, you go straightly online. It is cheap, convenient and efficient.”

Journalism student Cheng Xiaorong said: “The last time I went to the news kiosk was three months ago. And the magazine I bought was still lying on my desk, unopened. I was crazy about news kiosks. But now I seldom buy magazines or newspapers since they will do nothing but occupy my desk.”

With low pay, the work at the news kiosks is tough.

“My news kiosk opens at seven o’clock every morning and closes at eight o’clock at night. I close my news kiosk earlier than others because I cannot pack up the stand by myself. My old father has to come to help me at night,” Chen said.

Another news kiosk owner Wang Hengfeng said: “Sometimes I would suffer from a backache for sitting in the news kiosk for such a long time, from 7:30 in the morning to 10 o’clock at night. It is tiring.”

The government has allowed kiosks to see water and drinks, but that has only helped a bit. “Now I expect nothing for the sales of the newspapers or the magazines,” kiosk owner Chen said. “Thanks to the government’s policy, we are allowed to sell water and drinks since five years ago, which is now the primary source of my income.”

Except for the change in drinks policy, the government has no other subsidies for theses dying news kiosks.

To survive, news kiosks need to change. “News kiosks won’t survive long if it doesn’t transform. I think it may turn into a service station in the future,” Chen said.

Student Cheng suggested: “Maybe the news kiosks can cooperate with libraries to lend out books instead of selling newspapers. People are not willing to buy newspapers but borrow books. The news kiosk industry is low-cost; it helps to settle down the unemployed and the disabled. It is beneficial to have news kiosks for the public.”

But kiosk owner Wang remains pessimistic about the future. “If there is no way out, news kiosks will disappear in two years,” he said. “The income is too low. It is hard for us to survive.”


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