On April 3, Real Change will become the sixth street paper in North America to raise its price to $2. We’ve been batting the decision around for the last couple years. We did a customer survey, talked to the other papers that had raised their price and convened a focus group with vendors. Ultimately, we listened to the voices of our most successful vendors, whose consistent message to us was that it’s time to raise the price, because $1 doesn’t buy what it used to.
They are right. In fact, you need $1.51 in today’s dollars to buy what $1 bought when we started Real Change in 1994. While inflation has pushed prices for consumer staples up by about 50 percent, earnings for our vendors have remained flat. For the past seven years, vendors have paid 35 cents for each paper, which they sell for $1. Sometimes they get tips. All told, it amounts to average earnings of about $5 per hour. According to a 2011 report by the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, the living wage for a single adult’s is $10.64 per hour.
Real Change works for economic justice in the community, so it’s disheartening to see our own vendors earning even less than minimum wage. We must create better opportunities for our vendors. Raising the price of the paper is the most direct way to do that.
For our vendors to earn a living wage, we need you, our customers, to support the price increase. The paper itself is well worth the cover price. Last year alone, we won eight journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Press Association. Yet we know that the primary reason that our readers buy the paper is to support the vendors who are working hard every day to earn an honest living.
When the cover price increases from $1 to $2, the price to vendors will go from 35 cents to 60 cents. The added circulation income will fund Real Change’s exciting strategic initiatives in 2013 and 2014. These include the introduction of a mobile app that will allow customers to buy the paper using their cellphones, the hiring of a community organizer for our advocacy work and expansion of the paper’s distribution into Kitsap and East King counties.
While the added circulation income will help ensure Real Change’s long-term growth and sustainability, your generous donations in support of our work allow us to pass most of the benefit of this price increase to the vendors. Most street papers charge vendors 40 to 50 percent of the cover price. Real Change, with this price change, is actually lowering our vendor price from 35 percent of the cover price to 30 percent.
Our vendors are the lifeblood of Real Change. Selling the paper is hard work. Vendors put in long days, withstand the elements, deal with constant hassles from panhandlers and sometimes endure disparaging remarks from passersby.
Keep buying the paper and you help them earn a living wage.