A newspaper vending machine or newspaper rack is a vending machine designed to distribute newspapers. Newspaper vending machines are used worldwide,especially in Germany and they are often one of the main distribution methods for newspaper publishers.
The coin operated newspaper vending machine was invented in 1947 by inventor George Thiemeyer Hemmeter. Hemmeter’s company, the Serven Vendor Company, was based in Berkeley, California, and had been making rural mail tubes and honor racks. The new invention could be adjusted to accept coins of different denominations (depending on the cost of the paper sold). The newspaper rack was able to be used with one hand, and took around 30 seconds to dispense a paper. Two models, one with a capacity for 1250 pages of newsprint, the other 2500 pages, were brought into production initially. By 1987, over one million machines had been distributed.
In the United States, publishers have said that the distribution of newspapers by means of street racks is “an essential method of conveying information to the public” and that regulations regarding their placement are an infringement of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In 1983, the city of Lakewood, Ohio adopted an ordinance that gave the mayor of the city complete control of where newspaper racks could be placed, and which newspapers could be placed in them. On June 17, 1988, this ordinance was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling, citing that the ordinance could potentially be used to penalize newspapers that criticize the local government.
The newspaper vending machines began to lose popularity as many newspapers switched to online distribution, and as newspaper prices rose; as most vending machines are completely mechanical with no moving parts, few of them have paper currency validators which need some kind of electrical power to work, requiring multiple quarters or dollar coins to be inserted. This is especially true for Sunday newspapers (for example, the Sunday New York Times costing $6 nationally and requiring 24 quarters in a vending machine), which see machines go unfilled by some papers due to the bulk of those editions reducing the amount of copies that can possibly be sold. By 2009, various artists and inventors had begun working on re-purposing the boxes.
Newspaper vending machines have been criticized for occasionally failing to distribute a newspaper after it has been paid for. The newspaper vending machines has also been criticized due to an issue in the design, making it possible for money or newspapers to be stolen from the machine.