In a bid to tackle the manpower crunch, media organisation Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has launched a trial in which subscribers can collect their newspapers from a vending box at their void deck.
Resembling a letterbox, each steel box has slots to store newspapers for 21 households. To access these slots, subscribers will be given a unique key to punch in. If necessary, more slots can be added.
Under this system, delivery charges, which currently range from $3 to $5, could be reduced, said senior manager Bernard Yeo from SPH's circulation division.
The system has been in place since last Wednesday at four blocks in Compassvale Link, Sengkang. To provide subscribers easy access, these boxes have been placed near existing letterboxes
The vending box will cut back on the amount of time delivery teams take to deliver newspapers door to door.
Over the past five years, the industry has suffered from an acute shortage of manpower due in part to tightening quotas on foreign labour.
"Very few Singaporeans want to take on such a job which requires them to work in the early hours of the morning," said Mr Yeo.
At present, 2,500 delivery workers hand deliver more than 400,000 copies of SPH newspapers, including The Straits Times, daily. Out of this group, 80 per cent are part-timers.
Newspaper vendor Bala Retanasamy believes the new mode of delivery will allow him to expand his pool of employees to senior citizens and retirees as there will be no need to walk and climb so much.
Said the 54-year-old: "Instead of climbing the stairs, they will get to push trolleys. Workers will also be able to deliver newspapers to 10 blocks every day, up from the current six," he said.
Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Seng Han Thong, the adviser of the Singapore Newspaper Distributors Association, said the system has worked in countries such as Switzerland.
"One challenge is to change mindsets and have people come out of their homes and go downstairs to collect their papers."
For Sengkang resident Joe Leong, it was easy to adapt to the new system.
"I don't mind the change," said the 42-year-old taxi driver. "I pick up the newspaper before I head to the coffee shop in the morning for my coffee."
This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.