The Big Issue’s Digital Edition

Home and AwayThe Big Issue (Australia) made an exciting announcement this week: From 7 June there’ll be another way to enjoy it. Currently a print-only magazine (and a fantastic one at that), it will also be available digitally.

It’s a complementary approach and one that I’m fairly excited about—the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), of which The Big Issue is a member, has been trialling the digital editions overseas for some time.

The response has been positive, with digital sales making up between 1% and 10% during the trial period. At the same time, the digital issues ensure that, while never replacing vendors’ incomes, give readers options to read the mag in formats that best suit their needs.

The move is indicative of one that’s affecting the wider publishing and newspaper industry—how to adapt to a digital age without losing revenue. That’s especially important for The Big Issue’s vendors, who have very often experienced tough times and are selling the magazine as a way to turn their lives around (not that I’m saying journalists and others who work for newspapers and magazines are any less in need—we all need a viable, steady income).

It’s no secret that I’ve a massive soft spot for The Big Issue, although I’d say respect rather than soft spot. The magazine provides quality content for readers as well as dignified, life-saving employment. What’s not to like about that?

The digital editions will work like this: Vendors will continue to sell the print editions, but they’ll also sell digital access cards for those who want them. The cards will contain details for downloading the mag to computers and reading devices such as iPads. As with the print editions, $3 from the $6 sale will go directly to the vendor—‘a hand up, not a hand out’.

The Big Issue has a strong track record with coming up with innovative ways to help people. Their Women’s Subscription Enterprise, for example, sees companies and people buy magazine subscriptions (I’m particularly impressed by this one—it’s not something I’d be clever enough to come up with).

Under this scheme, female vendors who otherwise may not feel safe selling the magazine on the street or who may have family commitments that prevent them from doing so, are able to pack and post the magazines, thereby earning a living.

The proceeds from the magazine sales also go to such programs as their street soccer one, which sees vendors and beyond head along to weekly football sessions that help them get fit, make friends, learn team work, and have fun. It’s kind of all-round win win.

Some players from the street soccer program are selected for the Homeless World Cup (HWC), an annual international event for homeless and marginalised people that uses football to inspire social change.

There isn’t yet a book about the Australian team, but Dave Bidini did a bang-up effort following the Canadian team at the 2008 HWC, which The Big Issue hosted in Melbourne. It’s a good indicator of the kinds of incredible work The Big Issue does, and the benefits of its profits. I, for one, will be roadtesting the digital editions (and supporting its flow-on football effect) come 7 June.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.