Paperboy (and less commonly Papergirl) was an iconic role of youngsters, often their first job, in Western nations during the heyday of printed newspapers. A paperboy's task was to distribute printed newspapers to homes or offices of subscribers on a regular route, usually by bicycle or automobile. This has often been a before-school or after-school job for adolescents. (Contrast with the newsboy or newspaper hawker, now extremely rare in Western nations, who would sell newspapers to passersby on the street, often with very vocal promotion. They were common when multiple daily papers in every city—as many as 50 in New York City—competed for sales each day.) Other phases of the newspaper distribution networks that developed—such as the siting of printing plants and the management of truck distribution networks—were typically not seen and not romanticized.
The position of paperboy occupies a prominent place in many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Japan. This is because it has long been the first paying job available to young teenagers, often male.
Despite that, the number of paperboys has declined greatly. This is due partly to the disappearance of afternoon newspapers, whose delivery times worked better for school-aged children than did those of morning papers which were typically delivered before 6 a.m. The numbers have also been affected by changing demographics, the availability of news and newspapers on the internet, employment laws and concern about the safety of un-escorted children, all of which have led many newspapers to switch to delivery by adults. Today, they are mainly used by weekly community newspapers and free shopper papers, which still tend to be delivered in the afternoons. Alternatively, sometimes paperboys are only employed once a week to deliver the paper on Sunday.
Newspaper industry lore suggests that the first paperboy, hired in 1833, was 10-year-old Barney Flaherty who answered an advertisement in the New York Sun, which read "To the Unemployed a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper."
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For paperboys, newspaper delivery is the selling or delivering of newspapers to consumers on a regular route with regular subscribers, called a paper route or newspaper route. Historically, newspaper delivery was generally done by adolescent boys using bicycles, "paper boys". The laws of the United States provide that "Minors employed in the delivery of newspapers to consumers are exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) child labor provisions, as well as the wage and hours provisions." Newspaper delivery is increasingly done by adults using cars.
Paper distribution is a fairly simple job. It consists of mapping out one's territory and using it to advantage in distributing paper. Knowledge of bicycle maintenance (if used) and basic customer service skills are developed. During the Holiday season in western countries, a paperboy can make an extra bonus - similar to a postman or a milkman. This is typically done by writing a Christmas card to each of the customers on the round and, in many cases, the customers will respond by leaving a "Christmas Box" or a "tip" (cash) as a gift. Customers may of course choose to leave tips and gifts out at any time of the year.
It is a low-standing job and therefore has relatively low-pay. As most papers are delivered early in the morning it requires the delivery person to get up early, which can also mean braving cold, dark, and inhospitable conditions. Some delivery routes have also moved away from simple 'walking routes' to larger 'driving routes', which requires both a car and a license. 'Driving routes' have become less profitable with the rising price of fuel, since fuel is not paid for by most newspapers/newsagents.
For paperboys using a bike, and the typical paper-round bag - in the UK a luminous, waterproof coloured bag with a single strap - the papers (chiefly at the weekend) are collectively very heavy and/or thick, meaning that some prefer Saturday or a Sunday rounds to be split and completed in two halves. The worst "culprits" in the UK are the Daily Telegraph on a Saturday and the Sunday Telegraph; The Sunday Times and The Observer (which is small but thick). Another problem on Saturday and Sunday rounds is the excess of magazines, which severely adds to the overall weight and is prone to slipping out of the papers before delivery; the Daily Telegraph featuring a substantial number of additional weekend magazines which invariably means that papers have to be taken apart and posted part-by-part.
An issue which can often occur is the drying and blistering of the skin on the hands and fingers, caused by the handling of printer ink and/or the friction caused between the hands and the bike handles or gloves.
The early depictions of paperboys on bikes throwing papers into gardens is no longer prevalent as most houses now have a letterbox on the front door and gardens are not easily accessible from the streets.
Although it is tradition to leave a "Christmas tip," it is entirely dependent on the generosity of the household whether any tip or bonus is given regardless of whether you have loosened their purses with Christmas Cards or not.
Some routes can also be an optional pay meaning there will be customers who refuse to pay. In years past with some US newspaper companies, the paperboy was responsible for collecting the subscription fees, and bore the loss if a customer did not pay.
In recent years, the role of the traditional paper-deliverer is in many cases replaced by a mass distribution system. Where in the past three to four walking or cycling deliverers would cover different parts of one area, one person can now deliver the entire round quickly with the use of a car or a van. This has shifted the times of paper delivery to night-work, starting close to print time at around midnight and delivering through the early morning until 5-6AM.
Arnold Bennett's 1911 novel The Card features a newspaper take-over. Part of the success of the stratagem depends on the proprietor temporarily detaining all his rival's paperboys, which he does by promising them food and locking them in. The paperboys are depicted as a rumbustious and tight-knit group.
In 1986 a arcade game called Paperboy was released. It was also the first NES game created in the U.S.A.
Tony Macaulay's memoir Paperboy (2010) tells the experiences of a paperboy in West Belfast in the 1970s.
Bob Thurber's Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel (2011) tells experiences of a 14-year-old paperboy and his emotionally troubled sister during the summer of 1969.
Beethoven includes funny episodes with a paperboy.
Better Off Dead features a paperboy on a bicycle that throws a newspaper through a closed window breaking the window glass. There are several paperboys in this movie.
In the 2001 Disney film Max Keeble's Big Move, the film's protagonist is a local paperboy.
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- Preus Museum. Lewis Hine, Newspaperboys photos