“The sun is shining, the sky is blue(ish), two free staples with every ‘Big Issue…” This sales pitch by a Big Issue vendor on the corner of Charing Cross Road has the immediate effect of putting a smile on the faces of those people within earshot. Despite the adverse weather …
“The sun is shining, the sky is blue(ish), two free staples with every ‘Big Issue…” This sales pitch by a Big Issue vendor on the corner of Charing Cross Road has the immediate effect of putting a smile on the faces of those people within earshot. Despite the adverse weather conditions which suggested that the vendor was either trying to deflect the torrential downpours with sunny optimism, or too much time spent in the UK has resulted in delusional thinking as far as the concept of actual sunlight is concerned remains debatable. The underlying goal was clearly to sell copies of this socially innovative magazine and the sales pitch was a clear reminder of the core principle of ‘journalism worth paying for’.
The Big Issue was created as a way to combat the problem of homelessness by offering homeless people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income; to ‘help them to help themselves’. Over the past two decades the magazine has become synonymous with challenging, independent journalism, and renowned for securing exclusive interviews with the most elusive of superstars. It currently circulates over 105,000 copies every week.
Created as a business solution to a social problem, The Big Issue has gone on to become one of the most instantly recognisable brands in the UK and a powerful blueprint for social change which has inspired hundreds of imitations; from Johannesburg to Tokyo, Sydney to Addis Ababa, Perth to Sao Paolo, Seoul to Nairobi, The Big Issue is leading a global self-help revolution.
In order to become a Big Issue vendor an individual must prove that they are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and must undergo an induction process and sign up to the code of conduct. Once they have done so they are allocated a fixed pitch and issued with a number of free copies of the magazine. Once they have sold these magazines they can purchase further copies, which they buy for £1.25 and sell for £2.50, thereby making £1.25 per copy.
The original business model on which the organisation was built remains successful for the time being. However as more and more of us turn to online and digital publications to get our ‘daily news hit’ or read the latest commentaries and articles; we threaten the existence of more than a social enterprise but also that of those whose presence is on nearly every street corner across the UK. The physicality of the printed and published artefact is integral to the concept – it is the act of selling the magazine rather than its content which is key to its success. That is not to say that the content is not good. The range of opinion and insight is vast and the quality of the written word resonates with all audiences – young old, rich and poor. The participation of this social innovation is most certainly action, not merely words.