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Flyposting is evil

When I was about sixteen, I went flyposting with a bucket of wallpaper paste, a stack of photocopied A4 posters and a bass player. We put posters on bus stops in our home town, in the surrounding towns and in the town where our band was due to play, and it was nerve-wracking stuff: we were under no illusions that if the police had caught us, we’d be in big trouble. We’d have been forced to remove our posters, and we’d have been cautioned. Fifteen years on and I’m deeply ashamed that I ever did it, and I reckon that had the police caught us and forced us to lick every last drop of paste from the bus stops we’d defaced, the punishment still wouldn’t have fit the crime.


[Photo: BBC News]

Flyposting is vandalism, pure and simple. It turns entire streets into something that’s a cross between a pound shop and a teenager’s bedroom, it makes some of the most beautiful parts of the city into an eyesore, and it’s completely and utterly unnecessary. And in typical old curmudgeon style, I think Something Should Be Done.

Before I suggest a solution, I’d like to demolish a few myths.

Flyposting is essential for underground promoters.

None of the flyposters I’ve seen recently have been for underground events. They’ve been for some of the biggest club promoters and biggest record labels on the planet, organisations who engage in flyposting because the fines are a drop in the ocean compared to their marketing budgets.

Let’s take a real-world example. There’s a BT exchange box a few yards from my flat, and it’s constantly being flypostered. Without fail, the posters are expensive, full-colour jobs for struggling artists such as Muse (Warner Brothers) and Dogs Die In Hot Cars (V2, a subsidiary of Virgin). These are not local bands trying to pull in a few extra punters for a gig at Nice N Sleazy; these are bands whose record companies are multi-million pound enterprises. It’s worth noting that the British Phonographic Industry – the industry organisation that represents the UK’s biggest labels – has urged all its members to stop using flyposting.

Another example? Have a look at www.flypost.it, whose posters are all over the city. The logos on its site – which I assume suggest the firms it wants to work with, rather than the firms it currently works with, because I don’t want to get sued – include Miller, Budweiser, HMV, Kickers, MTV, Schwarzkopf and Smirnoff. The last time I checked, these firms’ bosses weren’t busking for coins on Ashton Lane.

Flyposting is essential because advertising is too expensive.

See above. Sony can afford it. Warners can afford it. BMG can afford it. And it’s the music business – the big labels, not poor, broke indie types – who do the most flyposting. As the Tidy Britain Campaign notes:

Following a survey of some of England’s cities, Keep Britain Tidy revealed that while night-clubs, political parties, theatres, cinemas and religious groups (such as Gouranga) were advertising their messages illegally – the music business is still doing the most posting.

Even for small enterprises, you can advertise for buttons. Fanzines would appreciate the support; low circulation music magazines don’t cost the earth, and so on. You could argue that flyposting is attracting money that would otherwise go to these publications.

Flyposting isn’t vandalism. People who flypost are responsible.

That’s why every lampost is covered in stickers promoting bands who broke up five years ago, posters for events that happened six months back, and wrapped in plastic cable ties left behind from posters that blew away last winter. That’s why flyposters – again, for big clubs and record labels – have been placed not just on shopfronts, but over the plaques on monuments, bridges and other things that are a damn sight more valuable than a club night’s lineup.

Flyposting doesn’t harm anyone.

The Tidy Britain Campaign says:

a good proportion of the £342 million of public money that is spent every year clearing litter is used to combat flyposting.

It’s estimated that illegal music flyposting saves firms around £8 million per year in advertising, and the cost of removing the posters comes from people’s council tax. Doesn’t it give you a warm glow to think that your Gran’s council tax is helping big corporations save so much cash?

But of course, most flyposters don’t get taken down by councils. They’re replaced with others, or left to fade, tear and rot, a semi-permanent blight on the landscape.

So, Something Must Be Done. But what?

Learn from the continent.

In places such as Paris, you’ll see giant postbox-style drums where people can advertise for free. Edinburgh council is apparently considering introducing similar things, via a firm called City Centre Posters; other councils have introduced public noticeboards. Let’s have more of them (so that small venues, bands, political rallies etc can still promote themselves) – and let’s have limits on what can go on them. You want something the size of a billboard? Pay for a billboard. Can’t afford a billboard? Tough. I can’t afford an Aston Martin, so I drive a Renault.

Here’s an example of a public noticeboard in Dundee:

It’s still relatively small scale (and there’s some controversy over who can and can’t use the boards) but it’s a step in the right direction.

Fight fire with fire.

Some English councils have a novel approach: instead of taking down the posters, they post “Cancelled” notices on them. In some towns that approach has made flyposting virtually disappear. Here’s an example, from somewhere in England:

The image (from a council web site) is a pretty good illustration of what I’m talking about: the poster is an advert for a commercial operation, and you know damn well they can afford to buy advertising.

Get the organ grinder, not the monkey

Going after the individuals who put up the posters isn’t really a deterrent – remember, we’re talking about giant firms saving eight million quid a year here. So go after the organ grinder and ramp up the fines dramatically so they’re as expensive as advertising, and use the money to pay for better clean-up squads to get rid of the posters that will continue to appear. And if it’s unclear who’s responsible – a common ploy is to talk about independent third parties who just happen to put posters up, it’s nothing to do with us, we’ve no idea why they’d want to promote our products or artists – then fine whoever benefits from the poster campaign. So if the posters are for Dogs Die In Hot Cars’ new album, fine the record label. And make the fines count, so that proper, paid advertising looks much more attractive than flyposting.

I’m not naive enough to believe that these things will abolish flyposting altogether: as long as sixteen-year-olds can get easy access to wallpaper paste and a photocopier, posters will still appear. But it’s become a multi-million pound industry, an industry that holds councils and the public in utter contempt, costs you and me a fortune and looks bloody awful. Of course companies should be able to promote their products, but not by flouting the law, turning streets into giant billboards and defacing the environment.