The Decline of Print Advertising: Sunday Boxing Day Edition

There is no special Sunday print edition of The Hamilton Spectator on this Sunday Boxing Day. It is the end of a tradition and another marker of the decline in the importance of print advertising.

There have been special editions of TheSpec every Boxing Day Sunday since the legalization of Boxing Day retail opening in 1996.

The ProQuest database states the last Boxing Day special edition, on Sunday, December 26, 2010, contained 68 stories. There were over 100 stories on Sunday, December 26, 2004, and the 1999 edition included 94 stories.

Since 2010, Boxing Day has declined in importance to retailers.

With just-in-time logistics and advances in inventory data methods, retailers order just enough products to match detail projections of Christmas demand. The days of overstocking before Christmas are in the past, and the need for Boxing Day to clear overstock no longer exists.

Retailers are discounting prices year-round. Black Friday, Amazon Prime Days, Cyber Monday are just some of the significant retail discount days on the calendar. Even before the pandemic, each day was increasingly focused on electronic commerce over physical retailing.

Electronic commerce relies upon targeted online marketing. Long gone are the days of special print retailing inserts.

The Boxing Day special print editions required a skeleton crew of the newspaper's production staff to work on Christmas Day.

A few journalists and at least one photographer needed to work on Christmas Day to ensure the paper had new context for the front page. Most of the content was produced in advance, with year-in-review content filling the pages between advertisements.

The profitability of the special Sunday editions made it worth the effort. Not anymore.

It is just another symptom of the financial challenges facing newspapers.

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In writing this post, I needed to confirm when Boxing Day retailing became legal. To assist anyone asking similar questions in the future, here's an addendum.

It was illegal for retailers to open on Boxing Day until 1996, when the Boxing Day Shopping Act Bill 95 was enacted.

Ontario's police forces strictly enforced the prohibition. Numerous retailers defied the law over the years.

By Boxing Day 1995, many large retailers were openly defying the law. The December 27, 1995 edition of The Hamilton Spectator included numerous stories of stores opening on Boxing Day, and police issuing provincial offence notices. The 1995 story states, "Yesterday's opening by The Brick was the first time in the store's history that it opened on Boxing Day."

In May 1995, TheSpec reported on a $6,000 fine imposed by a Justice of the Peace against a sports retailer for opening on Boxing Day.

"I agree stores should be open on Sundays, but there is no rhyme or reason to be open on Boxing Day," Justice of the Peace Brian McDermott is quoted as stating. A bit of a time capsule, only three years after Sunday shopping was legalized.

(Sunday shopping was illegal in Ontario until Bill 38 passed on June 3, 1992. The Solicitor General of Ontario who moved the legislation was Hamilton Centre MPP David Christopherson.)

The story states the store reported, the "court was told the store did $3,192 in sales on Boxing Day and after costs, such as taxes and salaries, realized a net profit of $107."

In May 1996, an Ontario Provincial Court judge ruled the prohibition against Boxing Day openings unconstitutional. The lower court judge lacked the jurisdiction to overturn numerous Supreme Court of Canada rulings that government laws imposing holiday closures did not violate the Charter. The decision was 16 paragraphs long and overturned on appeals.

[R. v. Hy & Zel's Inc. 1996 CarswellOnt 1968, [1996] O.J. No. 1937, 31 W.C.B. (2d) 127, 37 C.R.R. (2d) 161, 96 C.L.L.C. 210-032.]

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice overturned the ruling in 2000. The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed in 2005 that there is no Charter Right for retailers to open on holidays. The Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal in 2006, settling the issue.