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A new Big Issue?

September 26 2009
Eight pages of ‚Äö?Ñ??the homeless worldwide‚Äö?Ñ?¥, a crossword, and a page of 'the homeless and culture' Eight pages of ‚Äö?Ñ??the homeless worldwide‚Äö?Ñ?¥, a crossword, and a page of 'the homeless and culture'
There‘s no danger of a clash of the Titans between the old guard and the young pretender A new street paper has been spotted for sale - but what's it about? The Big Issue's monopoly on heartstring entrepreneurism could soon be shaken by a new publication on the block, The Homeless Speak Out. When a copy of this publication came into our hands, our interest was piqued, and immediately we wondered if the new paper was seeking to usurp the Big Issue. Immediately, we envisaged a toe-to-toe clash of the titans, on a par with The London Paper and London Lite, slugging it out for supremacy. Who has the money to take on the Big Issue, founded with money from the Body Shop empire, and what will be their unique selling point to wrest the vended magazine crown from the Big Issue head? Refreshingly, the reality is quite different. We called the number given in the front of The Homeless Speak Out, given as the only point of contact, and found a helpful man at the other end, but few answers. When we called the mobile number given, we spoke to the only member of staff present, who told us that his job was "just to stay in the office, clean, and give the magazines out to sell." When we asked who owned the magazine, we were told that "I just know him as Tony." However, the gentleman we spoke to had only worked there for three weeks and didn't know the boss's surname, and had only seen him "once or twice." What he was sure of was that Tony was out of the country, and helping people with "food and clothing." It's nice to find out that as a start to a magazine empire, when the first issue has hit the streets the boss is out on philanthropic missions overseas. But, as a result of Tony's absence, details on why this paper was started, and why it thought it should do what the Big Issue does already, are still a mystery. We asked why no editor or staff were listed in the paper, and only names of people who don't work in London, but our man didn't know. Similarly, we asked why it was printed in Belgium, and if, as some of the names inside suggested, it was a continental business, but to no avail. However, we did get an answer to how many are sold: "A lot of them. A small lorry turns up, with Homeless Speak Out on the side, and drops them off." So, without a spokesman for the paper to answer our questions, we must rely on the copy we have at The Pavement. If anything, the paper lacks a little direction. Its content pages list an editorial, eight pages of "the homeless worldwide", a crossword, and a page of "the homeless and culture" which encourages readers to go to an exhibition of Coalbrookdale Ware porcelain. It goes as far as giving directions up the M6, but doesn't explain why it was entitled "homeless and culture." This confusion extends to the photography. One article on the streets of Toronto, Canada, has photos that look like a shot of a man in South America, and a boy fishing in India. The montage of images on the back page of, again, "the homeless worldwide" looks more likely to be shots of northern Pakistan or Afghanistan, and not necessarily of rough sleepers at that. Some may ask who will buy it? And why? It doesn't really have any in-depth reports, and certainly isn't professional in its design and layout. More importantly, vendors for this new paper get less than Big Issue sellers. We had Homeless Speak Out confirm that people are "interviewed and given a badge" to sell it, but the profits to be made are less than its established rival. Big Issue vendors buy that publication for 40%-50% of the ¬¨¬£1.40 cover price, giving vendors a profit of 80p per copy. The Homeless Speak Out offers only 50p out of the cover price of ¬¨¬£1.20, and for that ¬¨¬£1.20 you only get 12 pages and about seven articles. We've little to go on, having only managed to establish that it's a "small office," the boss is called Tony, and he helps people a lot. It will be a monthly paper, and we've asked Tony to call when he's back in the country, so we can report on The Homeless Speak Out plans. We did call the Big Issue for reaction, but they were unaware of The Homeless Speak Out's existence, and so understandably were unable to comment. So, is this really direct competition to the Big Issue? Not yet.
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