Newspapers Sell Like Hotcakes as People Seek Mementos

Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper.
Customers wait outside the Washington Post building Wednesday afternoon for special editions of the newspaper. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post )
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008

In this Twittering, podcasting digital age, the morning after America's presidential election found thousands of people clamoring for something more old-fashioned and tangible: extra copies of the morning paper.

"You can't put a computer screen into a scrapbook," said Joyce Mutcherson-Ridley, 56, an office manager who came to The Washington Post's 15th Street NW headquarters only to learn that the paper's first printing, reporting the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president, had sold out by 11 a.m.

The scenario was repeated from coast to coast as newspapers found themselves scrambling to meet unparalleled demand. Some newsstands were cleaned out before dawn. A few papers made it onto eBay (as much as $100 a copy, with the bidding still going) or Craigslist ($50, "still in plastic bag"). And some were rolled out in additional batches all day, sold to folks in lines that snaked down blocks and around buildings.

People who stayed up late, bleary-eyed from television or online page clicking, woke up needing something to touch. They sought physical proof that it wasn't all just a dream from a computer monitor's blue glow.

"You can't show your children your BlackBerry or your computer screen," said Merwyn Scott, 39, a lobbyist who carefully covered his newspapers in plastic wrap against the drizzle after waiting in line outside The Post for more than an hour. "In 30 years, my children will be able to touch and feel these papers when I tell them all about this historic day."

The Post printed 30 percent more copies for single sales but sold out within hours. An additional 350,000 commemorative edition copies were to be available at local retailers yesterday evening and today, said David Dadisman, vice president of circulation. Copies, as well as framed front pages, will be available at The Post's online store.

Similar scenes played out across the country as people tried to get their own little piece of history.

Papers sold out in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Detroit, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, among other cities. Some newspapers sold extra editions on the streets or special commemorative copies online. Others began offering front pages laminated or mounted on marble or wood.

The Los Angeles Times ran 40,000 extra copies, sold them all and began printing a second run of 30,000. The New York Times printed 50,000 extra copies; the Chicago Tribune, an extra 200,000. In Atlanta, the newspapers set up tables on the street to sell three extra printings: 40,000, then 60,000 and then a last run of 50,000.

Many were willing to pay almost any price to get a copy without having to stand in line. One man said someone on a bus offered him $20 for his Post. A man stood at 17th and L streets last night selling copies of The Post for $5, shouting, "Barack makes history!"

At The Post, circulation officials finally closed the office doors and posted a sign saying, "SOLD OUT."

"I wanted a copy for my kids. I have a newborn son who won't remember this, but I want him to know about the history that was made here, how important this is for us as African Americans," said Samantha Crawford, 35. "I want him to hold the paper in his hand and read about it someday."

Michael Meeks, 57, stood in a long line at a newsstand in Chicago.

"I'm buying as many newspapers as I can find so I can have a little piece of [Tuesday] night to keep with me forever," said Meeks, a communications consultant from Chicago's South Side. "Every decade or so, something happens so historic that you want to be able to say, 'I was there. I was alive.' "

Staff writers Eli Saslow and Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company