Digital Street Papers: Inspiring Change

Print newspapers’ decline has been well documented, as has their mad scramble to replicate and monetise the model online. That’s not to say that many people beyond the industry have been losing sleep over the digitisation-meets-modernisation-meets-monetisation issue.

In fact, (and I’m paraphrasing here) a Twitter retort to Rupert Murdoch’s tweet that bemoaned why he received nought but antagonism via Twitter—‘Why does everyone hate me?’—summed it up nicely. The clever tweeter explained: ‘I tend to find that one reaps what one sows’.

What’s lesser thought of, though, and what should be worried about is how print papers’ decline affects street papers. For those of you not familiar with them, street papers such as The Big Issue (TBI) represent a ‘hand up, not a hand out’ for homeless and marginalised people. They buy the street papers and half of the sale price goes to them (here in Australia TBI is $5.00, so $2.50 of every sale helps a homeless or marginalised person earn a living).

Print paper extinction (which is likely where industry is heading) puts these vendors in a precarious position. How do they enable street paper vendors to sell an online version of their paper? How does the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) (AKA the world org of street papers, of which TBI is a member) make available and monetise street papers in order to continue giving people who are already struggling a chance to work and improve their lives?

The good news is that street paper sales aren’t plummeting in the same way ‘traditional’ newspapers’ are (in fact, TBI Australia has reported solid and even increased circulation in recent years). The reality is, though, that the smartphone-equipped world’s moving largely online. For this reason, street papers need to a proactive part of this. But how and what to do?

The answer, it seems, is what INSP are calling a digital street paper (#digistreetpapers if you’re on Twitter and so inclined to tweet about it). It’s a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed, best explained by the video on this here good website.

In essence, customers purchase the digital paper from a vendor and access it via scanning or typing in a QR code. What follows is a customised thank-you message from the vendor, which I absolutely love and which offers a personal connection and a humanising touch to the sale—something equally as important as the sales transaction itself. The digital paper commences on the next screen, ergo you can read the paper however and wherever you are, e.g. on your smartphone on the train.

Now, I should issue a disclaimer that although I don’t work for either INSP or TBI, I have a lot to do with them: I’ve volunteered for the former and I’ve written for the latter and I’m a huge fan of their programs (INSP’s motto is ‘INSPiring change’).

I should also say that this website is asking for funds to help them get the concept off the ground. I’m not trying to push you to donate (although you are, of course, welcome to if the idea appeals), but I am asking you to have a good look through the site in its entirety and to spread the word.

Digital street papers are a quality concept and one the INSP team have spent years refining. I’m, frankly, impressed that they’ve come up with a simple, effective, still-personal answer to the problem not even the bigger end of the publishing town have been able to: how to make and monetise the move to the modern, digital age.