the newsvendor problem revisited: bad newspaper delivery routes in the news

The Boston Globe has had a delivery crisis, and it sounds like could have been avoided with operations research.

It’s hard for newspapers to operate in the 21st century. Like most newspapers, the Boston Globe is in cost cutting mode. The Globe switched to a new delivery vendor at the end of December to cut costs. The new vendor changed how it delivers newspapers to its subscribers: it cut staff and distribution centers and changed the routes. The routes were much longer than the previous routes. These longer routes led to dissatisfaction and many of the employees quit, which resulted in even longer routes for the employees who stayed. The problem snowballed and it resulted in 150 unstaffed routes, thousands of undelivered newspapers, and unhappy subscribers (112,000 reader complaints per day, up from the usual 2000 complaints!). Eventually, the Boston Globe hired another vendor to help deliver newspapers.

Here is a good article about the situation with Boston Globe delivery. Interestingly, the routes were blamed for the newspaper delivery woes. An excerpt:

Interviews with key executives within the organization reveal that the root of the delivery mayhem lies in something so simple that nobody gave it much thought until it was too late: sensible paper routes.

“Because route sequencing is a relatively easy part of such a difficult process, our team never called out sequencing as a major problem until we learned of it in real time,” said Andrew Perlmutter, executive vice president of Boston Globe Media Partners, who led the project.

I’m not sure that routing and scheduling is always so simple, but I am confident that operations tools are useful for solving this problem in an efficient manner. The vehicle routing problem to the rescue! A quick search through Interfaces shows many successful applications of routing and delivery, including

Fun fact: I once delivered newspapers as a teenager. I was given a set of houses in a neighborhood and I created my own route. I always had an eye for efficiency, even as a 13 year old.

What are your thoughts on newspapers and operations research? What is your favorite routing and/or delivery application?


One response to “the newsvendor problem revisited: bad newspaper delivery routes in the news

  • prubin73

    Back in 2014 (I think), one of the runners-up in the Doing Good with OR student paper competition was a routing model for bloodmobiles in Turkey. I wonder if the same “whale and remoras” model might be relevant in Boston: load up some trucks with stacks of papers, find dispersed parking spots for them (the hard part), and have delivery people satisfy routes starting and ending at the trucks, rather than having to work out of (more distant?) depots.

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