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The Slow Demise of Italy’s Newsagents

Anyone who has been in Italy for any length of time can’t fail to have noticed the Boot’s legions of news stands or edicola, as they are known here.

The edicola is something of an Italian institution. More often than not in my experience, these edicole are purpose built kiosks. In Italy’s main cities & elsewhere, they sit on street corners, are to be found along main roads in urban areas, and sit underground in metro stations, or on the platforms of surface trains.

Italy’s newsagents, and there are no chains like the UK’s W H Smiths, sell newspapers, magazines, books, DVD and often have porn corners too.

I spoke to the guy who runs our local edicola in Milan a while back and asked him how business was. He said it was OK, but that sales were slowly falling.

The internet is starting to take its toll and now the iPad and other tablets are starting to become commonplace, it’s looking as if the days of Italy’s ubiquitous edicole may be numbered.

Wifi will, eventually, become commonplace in Italy, so there will be no real need to buy a ‘real’ paper or a magazine. Not that many Italians buy daily papers anyway. Government subsidies keep more than a few of Italy’s many newspapers afloat. There have already been some casualties of the technological revolution. Il Riformista – the Reformist – is one such Italian paper which shut down its printing presses this year. Others will surely follow, unless they go from print to digital.

In the meantime, and to counter falling sales, the main distribution points for Italy’s magazines and newspapers have been diversifying. Nowadays, Italy’s news stands sell a whole range of figurines and cards for Italy’s children.

Commercials planted between children’s programmes on Italian television fuel crazes and keep sales high. While I do not know, I suspect the profit margin on little €2 and €3 plastic figures plus all the cards, are most probably higher than the margins on newspaper and magazine sales. I suspect too that many more plastic dinosaurs are sold than newspapers, especially when news stands are situated along the routes towards local primary schools.

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I have no idea how many little plastic figures and cards my 9 year old boy has, but it is a lot. His mum seems unable to say no, much to the delight, I’m sure, of our local edicola.

One day, in the not so distant future, the friendly Italian edicola will either cease to exist and quite a number of families livelihoods will come to an end, perhaps after generations.

What will replace the edicola? Automated kiosks selling little plastic figurines to future generations of Italian kids may start popping up. This is already happening, though not for newspapers, magazines or small plastic toys for Italy’s children.

Near where I live in Milan, there are two vending shops. No shop assistants, just dumb machines which sell drinks, sandwiches and sweets at all hours. They are soulless places, but are portents of the future.

Even our local supermarket has self-service points which are not manned by checkout personnel. Italy’s newsagents may well be next.

In a few years, Italians, and not only, will pass by some machine or other which wirelessly tells you the latest edition of your favourite magazine or daily newspaper is ready for download onto their lightweight take-everywhere tablets.

While Italians might miss the social interaction, they may welcome the convenience offered by the digital frontier. Italy’s older generations may not be so happy though.

Maybe this inevitable evolution will lead to higher sales of a range of publications than before, but that remains to be seen.

What about you, if you are an expat in Italy or an Italian, do you think the human run edicola is doomed?

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