The Big Issue magazine is a great idea and a noble concept.
Empower homeless people to enable them to make some money by selling a simple product. For the homeless it has little or no startup capital and for the producers it is a registered charity meaning the costs are lower than that of a normal magazine.
So far so good.
But the question is, when did you last buy a copy? When did you last buy any print magazine? How many magazines have you bought in the last month? The last year even?
My answers to that are, I last bought a copy of the Big Issue about a year ago and I have probably bought one other printed magazine in the past year – The Economist.
I believe that although it’s a good idea, The Big Issue is now an outdated concept that needs to come to the 21st century.
Most of us read our news, gossip and opinions online – normally on our smartphones. Look around any tube station, cafe or airport and everyone is fiddling with their little devices. Rarely do you see someone reading a magazine.
Added to this, free magazines and papers are in abundance. Particularly in London. On my morning commute through Brixton and Baker Street stations I get offered anything up to 8 magazines and newspapers. That’s a lot of free reading material.
Why should I pay £2.50 for an admittedly decent magazine? To help a poor homeless guy sure, but I could just as easily give the guy £1.25, which is the profit from the magazine anyway, and then grab a copy of NME, Shortlist or The Metro.
There are modern business solutions which could still empower the homeless and encourage people to buy from them.
People love a voucher, 2 for 1 or 20% off or whatever.
The Metro and Evening Standard in London frequently have vouchers for McDonalds, Subway and Burger King. Whatever you think of those offerings, people love it. £2 for a Big Mac and fries? Trust me, people lap it up.
The Big Issue as a charity could easily get some exclusive discounts and have them only available in the Big Issue Magazine. Free entry to certain tourist attractions or 2 for 1 at mid range restaurants, Zizzi or Jamie’s Italian or something of that ilk.
People can be selfish and need encouraging, so giving them another reason to help a down and out human being would reap greater benefits generally.
The Big Issue as a news source is perhaps a bit outdated (see previous comments about glut of free print available). But people still pay for at a glance information – tour guides, maps etc.
The Big Issue could do a local version of it’s magazine with content aimed at helping visitors or residents get the best out of the city. A map and guide to, for example, Manchester for only £2.50? Bargain! It could be just a few pages at the back of the magazine but that’s info that could be priceless to some people.
You could also do The Big Issue tourist guide to London/Brighton/Edinburgh etc. People still buy guide books and a reasonably priced one would probably fly off the shelves (or hands).
The magazine used to (and probably still does) have jobs listing pages. But with the advent of internet searches that’s also outdated.
Tickets and Events
A bit of a wildcard, but sellers could sell tickets to certain events. Ideally The Big Issue would partner with a music or sports event and get discounted tickets. The profit then of course goes to the vendor.
There may be some grey area with touts. But done right with proper licencing this could be a decent money spinner.
Organising an event like a vintage bring and buy sale or similar could also be done by The Big Issue. This is probably easier to do in big cities like London or Manchester where these kinds of events attract a big crowd anyway.
The Big Issue Today
In all honesty, The Big Issue does a great job. For what it is and what it does, it does do it well. They have expanded the business and there are things like The Big Issue shop online. They also run an investment program, all of which is excellent.
My observations here are simply based on the fact that I often hear sellers grumbling on the street that no one wants to buy their magazine. To me it’s obvious that no one wants to buy a magazine, because no one buys magazines any more.
If you think I’m completely wrong, please feel free to put me straight in the comments below!