How much does the newsvendor earn in Bogotá?


Some things in Colombia remind you that we are still a developing country with features that go back half a century.

The guy in the picture sells El Tiempo, the biggest newspaper in Colombia. He goes around your block at 7am every Sunday without fail. (It may seem early but actually as I’ve been converted it’s not really that early for Bogotá.)

He walks around shouting ‘tiempo tiempo’ to announce his arrival. He’s got a very big voice so he will really wake you up. I live in the middle of the city so I wear earplugs. A few times when I haven’t worn them he managed to wake me up. Quite a good alarm.

You feel like you know him because he’s always been around. He’s reliable. You’re almost expecting him. It’s good that digitalization and AI haven’t taken over Colombia yet because people like this would lose their jobs completely. Labour is so miserably cheap that there still isn’t an economic case to replace human beings with machines..

Today I managed to get hold of him. I interviewed him. I found out the very sad truth about him. The energetic Santos has been walking the blocks for almost half his life. Doing the same, earning nothing.

Me: What’s your name?
Him: Santos!
M: Where do you live?
S: Bachué. 
M: How do you get here?
S: By Transmilenio.
M: How long does it take you?
S: 2 hours.
M: What time do you start the day?
S: 4am.
M: What time do you wake up ?
S: 3am.
M: Is this the only Neighbourhood you work in?
S: Yes! Chico!
M: What do you do when you’re not here? Since you come here on Sunday! (that’s when I hear him)
S: No! I work every day. I come here everyday!
M: How long have you been doing this?
S: 27 years!
M: How much do you get paid?
S: I get COP 1,500 (USD 0.5) for every newspaper I sell on Sunday, and COP 500 (USD 0.16) during the week.
M: How much do you sell every day?
S: I sell 40 copies on Sundays and 12 copies on the other days.
M: El Tiempo pays you in addition to the commissions you get per paper, right?
S: No, nothing. 7 years ago they used to pay for everything, wage, social security, pension. Now they don’t pay anything. We get paid just the commissions, not even travel expenses. They say there are ‘contractors’ now so they stopped paying us for walking the blocks.
(That means he practically earns about COP 60.000 (USD20) on Sundays and COP 7.000 (USD2) on workdays. That’s not even minimum wage. I struggle to see how he can make ends meet.)
M: Do you like your job?
S: I like it. But I need to look for another job because I have to walk a lot in this job and it’s tiring. I walk block to block everyday selling papers!
M: So why I only hear you in the morning on Sundays?
S: Because I go from block to block. I don’t just stay in 1 place. I go between calle 76 – 100, (76th-100th Street ), and Carrera 11-20 (11th-20th Avenue) everyday!
M: Why don’t you look for another job?
S: I’m 66!
(Wow you don’t look like it.)
M: Do you get pension?
S: No.

One comment

  1. Meyer Jap · · Reply

    Thank you for showing what a real Colombian does to earn his keep

    I love his grit to keep going

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