Saturday, October 8, 2016

Newsstand owner adapts to survive media crisis

Newsstand owner Jesus Erro: Publishers are fudging their sales numbers.
PAMPLONA, Spain - Those who study the business of media tend to look at it from the perspective of journalists and publishers. But the owner of a newsstand in the heart of this provincial capital has a different point of view.

Jesus Erro, 56, has owned and operated Caprichos Books and Stationery for the past 24 years. He has seen the good times and the bad.

For the first decade or so, sales of magazines and newspapers -- about three fourths of his business -- were strong. But beginning in 2008, with the combination of the financial crisis and the Internet's impact on sales of print products, the business has gone down steadily.

Versión en español

"For small shops in this industry, it's very difficult to survive. A few years ago, when there was a favorable economic climate, everything was straightforward, more or less. You never expected to make a lot of money but you did expect to make a decent income. But now with everything that has come along -- the Internet, the economic crisis -- Pffff. We are trying to make just enough money to survive in these kinds of shops."

In search of adventure

Erro didn't start out in the business. When he was 15, like many young people, he wanted adventure. He went to England and found work in menial jobs such as cleaning in hotels. He studied English on the side. He came home after a few years to work in a factory as a lathe operator. Then he went back to England for a time and finally returned home to the factory job.

When he was laid off from the factory, he got a severance package and began looking for an opportunity to do something on his own. A big reader, he had always been interested in books and newspapers. So it made sense for him to buy a shop that offered both.

He opens the shop each day at 7 and closes at 1 p.m. On a recent morning, he reflected on his personal and professional career path. He noted it was "very ironic" that despite his original interest in books, his shop now carries very few of them. The shelves of the narrow space are filled with notebooks, school supplies, candy, toys, magazines, newspapers, and collectors' publications ("The History of Egypt", in one volume a week).

Daily bread with daily paper

He also sells bread. On the morning I was there, half the customers bought bread with their newspaper. "I know it doesn't seem logical, especially to me." He does it to offer convenience to his customers and respond to the competition. In recent years many cafés have opened up nearby, and all of them are selling newspapers along with bread and pastries.

He had to adapt to survive. On Sundays in the good years, he would sell 70 copies of the country's leading daily, El País. These days, he might sell 15. Sales of the local dailies, El Diario de Navarra and Noticias de Navarra, are probably a third of what they used to be.

Meanwhile, the publishers, he believes, are trying to hide the sales declines.

"They're camouflaging a little the sales figures they say they have because they want to attract advertising. Actually, they sell -- really sell -- a lot fewer than they say they do, I believe."

Erro and his wife, who works in the provincial government, have a 14-year-old son. Erro does not expect the boy to follow him in the business. At this stage, his son is more interested in space travel and astronauts. Asked when he might sell the business, Erro replied, "Honestly, if I could, I would. I'm tired of this. I'm ready to try something else."

Below, a four-minute video interview, in Spanish, with English subtitles.



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