How much would you say it costs to take down eight do-it-yourself concert posters? Fifty bucks at most? Try $1,470 if you hit those silver garbage bins.
That’s what Toronto band Spiral Beach found out soon after going the DIY route to promote a show at the Opera House May 17.
Within a few days, they were given an invoice from EcoMedia Direct – the company behind those ubiquitous garbage/recycling boxes.
“It [the invoice] just appeared out of nowhere. To have something like this happen is kind of uninspiring,” says teen Airick Woodhead, Spiral Beach’s guitarist. He and sister Maddy did the postering, but didn’t expect to get stuck with a bill they certainly can’t pay.
“We barely made money on that show anyway,” says Woodhead. He laughs when asked how many shows it would take to pay such a bill, simply stating, “We’re in the hole big time.”
Frank Weinstock, manager of the city’s policy and business planning unit, chuckles at the price tag, too. Weinstock says the city has a new bylaw that levies removal costs for illegal posters, “but it wouldn’t be that high.” He explains that currently the city’s litter pickers just strip ads off.
“I know the band’s freaking out, but that was not a place to put it,” cautions Weinstock.
Now you’re asking, “The city doesn’t control its own garbage bins?”
“I know it’s in the fine print, but it says on them that they’re private property,” explains Spacing publisher Matthew Blackett, who’s followed the bin biz for years.
“This comes back to an issue of the city’s willingness to sell off its own infrastructure,” says Blackett, adding, “If it were city property, the fines would be a lot less, and people would understand the rules.”
It’s clear they don’t.
Woodhead stresses that he didn’t know the hand-drawn, letter-sized flyers would elicit threats of litigation.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity to know what’s legal and what’s not,” he says. The band offered to clean off the ads, glued with a mixture of flour and water, and to help remove other ads.
“Either they’re using us as an example or the [EcoMedia] guy’s just a total prick and is doing this to everyone,” figures Woodhead.
At EcoMedia, CEO Erich Genseberger is pretty emphatic. “I want people to understand to stay off the wild postering,” he says. “It is damaging my business. As far as we’re concerned, we will stop it one way or another.”
His company started sending out invoices and legal threats three months ago and has seen a 50 per cent decrease in postering on bins. “But there are people who just keep destroying our property, and I won’t stand for that,” says Genseberger.
The invoice billed Spiral Beach $780 for cleaning and poster removal, $320 for inspection and evidence collection, and a $300 admin fee. By way of contrast, a month of legit advertising on an EcoMedia box costs $900.
“There’s a fixed amount that basically covers the cost [of poster removal],” says Genseberger. It includes dispatching trucks with high-pressure cleaning devices, which also clean the street around the ads. He adds that “if you’re hit with 20, 30, 40 posters, the amount just goes up.
“It probably cost me more money to go there than the whole thing is worth,” he says, denying that this is a revenue-generating scheme.
“Eight boxes for $1,500 – oh, wow, they’re gouging. I’m sure that’s not their actual cost,” says Brent Bowman of the clean??up firm Goodbye Graffiti. He figures pro cleaning of a basic poster costs around $50 a box. “It sounds like they’re trying to punish somebody,” says Bowman, but he thinks EcoMedia has a right to protect its advertisers.
To keep his boxes clean, Genseberger says he will fight vandals all the way to court. “This is not something I like to do, but if I’m forced to, that’s the way I will go.”
Further complications could arise when the EcoMedia contract ends in October 2009, the city takes back the bins and Astral Media rolls out its slick new rubbish receptacles.
Will posterers run wild again? Will Astral raise the bar on legal threats?
We don’t know, but Blackett figures people should educate themselves on legit locations like the “99 per cent of the city’s utility poles you’re allowed to poster on.”
As for Spiral Beach’s options, Woodhead still isn’t sure if he’ll fight EcoMedia now that the June 2 ultimatum has passed, but it sure sounds like he’ll go digital with future promotion.
“It’s a cutthroat world anyway. Everyone posters over you the next day. We’ll see a shift to Facebook.”