While traditional media sales dipped during 2010, the international street paper movement increased sales by 10% overall and by up to 30% in specific regions. Melany Bendix, editor of The Big Issue South Africa, is in Glasgow attending the International Network of Streetpapers (INSP) annual conference.
The Big Issue South Africa is among those papers with an increased circulation, which we’re of course pleased about, and we’ll be releasing the exact figure as soon as our most recent ABC audit is confirmed.
But why are street paper sales climbing while so many mainstream mags are taking a beating?
It’s a topic under heavy discussion at the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) annual conference, taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, at the moment.
Several of my colleagues from the 113 street papers and magazines belonging to the INSP have their own theories, but the one that keeps popping up is that non-commercial publications like ours are filling the gaps left by the burgeoning corporatized and mass-syndicated media.
It makes sense when you consider that street papers are mostly unconstrained by pressure from big business advertisers, giving us the editorial freedom to cover issues mainstream media is often not able, or willing, to tackle. That’s not to say all mainstream media don’t publish articles unfavourable to their advertisers, but the ugly truth is the more bottom-line driven may be less inclined to give their bankrollers bad press.
All this is being debated against the backdrop of the News of the World hacking scandal media frenzy (in the UK, you’d swear there was no other news in the world except, well, News of the World).
I reckon the scandal could benefit European and even US street papers, which may pick up readers who’ve lost faith in the likes of the Murdoch Media Mafia and consider street papers to be credible and ethical alternatives.
The Big Issue Scotland is already leveraging this with their latest cover, which carries the massive cover line: “A Good Buy & thank you: We’re the up-from-the-gutter press loved by readers and still thriving after 20 years” — a brilliant play on News of the World’s final edition cover “Good bye and thank you: After 168 years we finally say a sad but very proud farewell to our 7.m loyal readers”.
The other reason many of us reckon street papers are picking up readers is that we’re able to source stories that other media often can’t, which is largely a result of us having ears and eyes “on the ground” on streets across the globe. At a time when syndicated copy seems to be at an all-time high, this a unique and powerful selling point.
Street papers are undoubtedly also gaining much support from an increasingly socially-aware public, who not only want to support poverty alleviation but also want to read well-researched, in-depth and balanced articles on issues of social justice from around the globe.
As David Schlesinger, former Reuters editor in chief (now chairman of Reuters China) and the INSP’s honorary president, said: “The journalism street papers do changes more than the lives of the end readers, it is a fundamental tool for change for the journalists and the sellers themselves.”
*Melany Bendix is editor of The Big Issue South Africa. She is blogging from the INSP 2011 annual conference taking place in Glasgow from July 20 to 22. The INSP represents 113 papers from 40 countries, which have a combined global readership of between five to seven million per edition.
Follow her on Twitter for live-from-conference updates @melbendix