Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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How The Big Issue pivoted quickly from street vendor to multi-channel during lockdown

As not only a print, but also a street-sold publication, The Big Issue faced serious challenges when the global coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown hit the UK. Here, Managing Director, Russell Blackman, talks us through how the publication responded.

By Friday 20th March, the UK was facing a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, and Russell Blackman, Managing Director of The Big Issue – the world’s most widely circulated street newspaper – knew that he had some fast decisions to make.

The future of the publication, not to mention the livelihoods of the street vendors who sold it, was under genuine threat. In this exclusive interview for the FIPP Insider webinar series, Blackman talks us through:

  • The repercussions of lockdown: how the income mechanism of the magazine’s sellers disappeared overnight
  • Emergence of digital: with help from agency Pugpig, the magazine was able to quickly launch a new HTML5 app
  • Subscription options: to bridge the 3-month+ lockdown period
  • Rethinking distribution: deals with retailers to distribute the print publication in-stores
  • Enabling financial contributions: from consumer and corporate donors

It’s the first offering from Season 2 of the FIPP Insider webinar series, which itself has been launched to allow the network to continue to showcase industry content during the lockdown period.

For The Big Issue in particular, a publication that had previously been so synonymous with the streets, the pivot away from traditional distribution models needed to be not only dramatic, but fast:

“The first steps were that we were going to have to use the product in a very different way to generate revenue for our vendors, and our own survival,” says Blackman. “We knew that it was likely to be a three month lockdown, so we instantly pulled together a campaign, we launched a three month subscription offer which has sold extremely well.” 

“Also with some help from Market Force and Dennis Publishing, we set up some retail deals, creating alternative ways to sell our magazine. So the magazine had been available through Waitrose, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and others.” 

“Maximising sales also meant creating a digital option too. So again with some very kind support from agency partner, PugPig, we launched a brand new HTML 5 based app, so we can give consumers as many options as possible during the lockdown. As well as that, we created a new means for consumers and corporate partners to offer one off financial contributions.”

You can view the webinar, which is hosted by FIPP CEO James Hewes, in full here.  

Jamie Gavin  @jaygavin

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