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The future of street papers

March 20 2013
Big Issue UK sales have fallen by 100,000 in less than a decade, so what‘s next?


The Big Issue’s UK sales have gone down by 100,000 in less than a decade, putting pressure on the magazine’s vendors.

Last summer the Big Issue detailed ambitious plans to “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.”

That has not yet happened, but there may be another, more readily available solution.

The International Network of Street Papers (INSP), an organisation that provides support to street papers and their vendors throughout the world, is piloting system in which street vendors can offer readers access to a digital edition of magazine for the same price as a print copy.

Access would be sold on a card, which can be scanned on compatible devices. Readers then view their digital edition on their smart phone, tablet or computer.

Lisa Maclean, executive director of INSP, said: “We recognise that there is a need to investigate digital media opportunities within our street paper movement to safeguard the future of street papers and most importantly, employment opportunities for their homeless vendors.

Ms Maclean said feedback from the north of England pilot had been “very encouraging”. “We see that there is a great deal of support for and interest in a digital street paper offering,” she added.

StreetWise, the US street paper from Chicago, is also experimenting with digital alternatives to help buck the trend in sales. The paper has launched a new mobile app with PayPal aimed at the customer who does not have change but is willing to buy online.

The customer has to request a unique four-digit code from the vendor, enabling the proceeds to still be sent to that individual.