22 November 2010

PRESS RELEASE: ‘Street' paper sales surge 10%

A GLOBAL network of papers and magazines aimed at lifting homeless people out of poverty is bucking the overall slump in worldwide print sales, with a collective 10 per cent rise in circulation over the past year.

Titles within the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), in some countries sold under the ‘Big Issue' brand, are all sold by homeless vendors. In September this year they had combined sales of 1.51 million, compared to 1.37m a year earlier.

Readership of the 115 titles within the group, spread across 40 countries, has now hit 5.27 million against 4.79m a year ago.

The best results were recorded in North America (+36 per cent) and Europe (+6.4 per cent).

During the year to September, ten new titles were launched; street papers are now read in 24 languages; and weekly bulletins highlighting their content are now sent to 1,200 media outlets, NGOs and government bodies around the world.

The Figures
  • Worldwide circulation +10 per cent
  • Combined sales 1.5 million (1.37m, September 2009)
  • Readership 5.3 million (4.8m, September 2009)
  • 10 new titles started, total now 115
  • North America +36 per cent
  • Europe + 6.4 per cent
  • Asia +48 per cent
"Impressive" figures

Douglas McCabe, press and online analyst with leading media research company Enders Analysis, described the figures as "impressive" in the current market.

"Any increases in paid-for circulation - and certainly on this scale - are counter to current trends in the magazine market, across nearly all mature economies," he said. "The reach of these titles is impressive, and their market share is growing even more disproportionately."

"In the broadest and simplest terms these magazines are not just proving attractive and valued products for a massive audience - but the intimacy of their distribution helps make them more relevant and welcome for crucial parts of the audience."

INSP has strong global industry links, which include Reuters, and the Rome-based development news agency Inter Press Service (IPS).

David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters News, and INSP's Honorary President, added: "Compelling and engaging content, presented well, deserves to be a winning formula. When that is combined with a special cause and enterprise, it truly makes a mark."

The concept behind the INSP street paper movement is a simple one. Homeless vendors buy a paper at cost price and sell it for the cover price, keeping the proceeds. The growing sales translate simply into more people being taken off the streets.

Stark contrast

INSP's figures compare starkly with other recent industry findings which showed overall global newspaper circulation is now falling for the first time.

A report from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, published in August, revealed data from 233 countries that publish newspapers. Their ‘World Press Trends' report showed there was a 0.8 per cent decline in newspaper circulation from 2008 to 2009, to 517m copies sold. Sales in developed markets such as Europe and North America were hit the hardest.

By region, the report showed circulation was up 1 per cent in Asia and 4.8 per cent in Africa, but dropped 3.4 per cent in North America, 4.6 per cent in South America, 5.6 per cent in Europe, and 1.5 per cent in Australia and Oceania. Circulations for non-daily newspapers edged up overall by 2.5 per cent for the same period. In Europe they rose 1.5 per cent, and 3.1 per cent in Asia; but they fell by 6.2 per cent in Africa and by 1.4 per cent in North America.

But within the INSP network, dominated by monthlies and weeklies, North American circulation and total readership soared 36 per cent to 246,350 and 862,225, and in Europe they jumped 6.4 per cent to 1,084,859 and 3,797,007. In Asia, too, they rose 48 per cent, although from a much smaller base or 52,000 copies printed across four titles.

200,000 vendors

The circulation figures follow on from other INSP research published last month into the economic effects on the homeless people who actually sell the titles, which showed similarly impressive success.
Over 200,000 people have now worked as a vendor, with many helped out of homelessness as a result, since the INSP network started in 1994.

They showed that up to last year, 71 per cent of street papers had helped their vendors get off the streets and a quarter of the papers are now being credited with being involved in creating policy change on housing and homelessness in their home city or region.

Like many papers around the world, especially in mature markets, INSP is embracing digital platforms and it is currently working on developing new forms of publishing product and growing its overall product portfolios, audience reach and revenue streams.

INSP has recently launched to the public what it considers a huge step in expanding the services it provides its readers: the Street News Service (www.streetnewsservice.org). The SNS is a multilingual online news agency, which brings together the best content from the 115 titles. Some 75 volunteers help translate articles in any of the network's 24 languages. The site's content is be targeted at an increasingly diverse readership, including mainstream media, NGOs and governments.

INSP's Executive director Lisa Maclean said: "The street paper concept is becoming a huge news industry success story. It is showing in a tough market, that targeted, local papers and publications are still strong.
"The INSP member titles provide a real service and purpose to many of the people who sell them too, so they are doubly successful at the moment.

"Then of course, through that global network, we provide an international element too - an on-the-ground perspective on key homelessness and poverty issues, which is appealing to a greater audience every year.

"The content mix is potent - from actual vendor stories and first-hand accounts of people affected by poverty and social injustice, to lighter pieces that appeal to just about everyone."


Street paper success stories


One of the network's greatest successes has been in the United States, where one of its member publications The Contributor in Nashville, tripled its January 2010 circulation of 12,000 to a print run of 60,000 in September this year. In Los Angeles, Community Connection saw circulation quadruple to 10,000 in 12 months.

"We must pinch ourselves when we remember that our print run in January 2009 stood at a proud 1500," said The Contributor editor Tasha French. But she added the social success is even more impressive.
"The publication recently surveyed its homeless and formerly homeless newspaper vendors and found that of those who had been selling for more than a month, 29 per cent had found housing since they started selling. Vendors who had sold for at least three months had a 35 per cent rate of finding housing."


On the other side of the world, Melissa Cranenburgh, deputy editor of The Big Issue Australia, has seen circulation in the last quarter jump from 150,000 to 182,000 from the same time last year, which she calls "an anachronism in an increasingly digitally tuned world."

"The fact we're a social enterprise as well as an independent magazine, is definitely the big selling point. This feeds into our belief that if people are going to pay for print, there better be something else they are supporting as well. You could see it as a boutique product," she added.

"The anachronism is that people get the old-fashioned contact of buying their magazine from the guy (or woman) down the road. They can have a chat. Talk about their day, the weather, the football scores. And at the same time they know that their money isn't going into the pockets of a media mogul. It's going directly to helping the man or woman they've just been talking to. That adds incalculable value."

South Africa

Trudy Vlok, director of The Big Issue South Africa, said: "Like the majority of charitable organisations in SA, The Big Issue SA is feeling the pinch of the global recession in terms of fundraising, but our circulation figures have shown a steady increase over the past 2 years - a direct contrast to the circulation trend in the SA commercial magazine sector, which has shown a distinct decline during the same period.

"The growth is attributable to three main factors: it is more than just a magazine, it is one of the simplest and most effective ways for an average member of the public to actively engage in socio-economic development; as we are not answerable in any way to conventional commercial publishing restrictions."

"We can provide our readers with quality, credible content that is not always available from the mainstream media. On top of that, our vendors, who form solid personal relationships with their customers, are a very effective channel for word-of-mouth promotion."


Luciano Rocco, editor of Brazilian member magazine OCAS, said that his circulation is holding steady at 8000 magazines, in a country which is suffering what he calls "reader fatigue".

"Alternative media includes other voices and alternative perspectives that you would not access in the mainstream and people enjoy and appreciate this."

"Alternative publications like ours have the opportunity to work with big PR agencies to provide them with alternative readerships and channels of communications.

"The public is reading material in new arenas, from all sorts of places and with a wider variety of views and opinions. People are becoming more socially aware. This can only benefit us."


Hildegard Denninger, from street paper BISS in Germany, says her success is down to the vendors: "The paper is there for the vendor and not the other way round. We are transparent; we have a good product, a good project and therefore good vendors."

"We take our vendors seriously and spend all our donation money on their health, on furnishing flats, on paying debts, on hearing-aids, holidays, journeys, birthdays and other celebrations, and so a lot of our strength comes from the vendors.

"Street papers have to put as much money and as much effort into their vendors as they put into their paper - that way it always works."


For more information or interviews, please contact:

Lisa Maclean
Executive Director INSP
M: +44 (0)78 12200264

or: Danielle Batist
Street News Service Editor
+44 (0)77 54141230


Street papers exist to tackle homelessness and poverty. Vendors buy their street paper or magazine at cost price before hitting the streets to sell the latest editions at the cover price - generating an income for themselves. Street papers offer homeless and marginalised people the chance to earn a living. At the same time they are a distinctive and quality independent media -challenging public perceptions of poverty and social injustice in cities across the globe.


An international charity organisation, INSP unites 115 street papers in 40 countries. Since its foundation in 1994, more than 200,000 vendors around the world have changed their lives through selling street papers. INSP street papers are an important media resource, with a global readership of over 5 million per edition.