Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Street papers to go digital

June 15 2012
App turns <em>Big Issue</em> vendors into town-criers, says John Bird


Just over a year ago, The Big Issue announced plans to develop a Big Issue app (The Pavement July 2011). While that has yet to materialise, the organisation is pressing ahead with the launch of a new digital magazine covering social issues, entitled Big Issue Answers.

According to The Industrious Publication magazine, Big Issue Answers will “create work opportunities for the homeless, ex-homeless and long-term unemployed people. Vendors will get training to help them report on projects and businesses that have the answers to a number of social problems.”

In an interview with the magazine, Big Issue co-founder John Bird is quoted as saying: “This will give [the people reporting on the projects] the opportunity to develop their skills whilst earning money. I wouldn’t want to call them journalists because I think journalism takes a long time, but if I can get them doing video pods... We’re getting them to report on the social programmes, the projects - all the social stuff in their neighbourhood. [Someone in any one location] could buy a magazine online and parts of it would be [about] social projects, libraries [relating to that location]. We’re turning the Big Issue vendors into town criers.”

Big Issue Answers was due to go live on 16 April, but the launch has been pushed back. A Twitter account however has been set up (@Big IssueAnswers).

Meanwhile, The International Network of Street Papers (INSP) - of which The Big Issue is a member - has unveiled plans to offer digital editions of its print publications. The first publication to be available in digital form will be The Big Issue in The North, followed by StreetWise in Chicago. Pledges totalling $5,000 are currently being sought through online platform Kickstarter, yet while the success of this crowd-funding campaign is a factor, the project’s digital media consultant David Craik says: “We’re certain it’s going ahead and are aiming for the digital edition to be available in July, and the Chicago edition in September/October”.

If the pilot project - pencilled in at three to six months - goes well and sales are improved, the scheme will be rolled out all of the charity’s 122 street papers. Executive director Lisa Maclean says: “Street papers - both in print and digital form - can challenge public perceptions of poverty and social injustice... We believe this project has the potential to become not only one of the world’s largest paid digital media platforms, but one of the most important, too.”

The digital editions will be the same price as their print equivalents. Readers will buy an access card from a street vendor and scan or enter the QR code to download the magazine onto their smartphone, tablet or desktop computer: “We have to preserve that transaction between vendor and customer,” says Craik. “To begin with, the content will be identical to the print edition but there is scope to add content, such as audio and video.”

The transaction process of the planned Big Issue app differs in that the customer’s location will be pinpointed and their money will go to the nearest Big Issue vendor. According to Craik, the development of the app is separate from the INSP scheme.