Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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The Big Issue goes digital, and drives over 10,000 subscriptions in 7 weeks

The Big Issue has made a name for itself in the publishing world for its commitment to helping the homeless and other vulnerable people in the UK. They do this through their network of vendors, many of whom are homeless or living in poverty, allowing them to make a living through work, not charity.

Then 2020 brought a pandemic.

“By the time Boris Johnson sent the UK into lockdown, Lord John Bird had already taken Big Issue vendors off the streets,” notes this article in Dennis UK.

“Homeless people fall within the vulnerable category as they are unable to self-isolate and the decision was made to protect them. But how do you continue to sell a magazine that relies totally on active purchases by consumers on the streets, when no one is allowed outside?”

The team put their minds to the problem, and came up with a three-prong approach that could drive income to sell magazines and thus continue to help the homeless – subscription sales, newsstand sales and the Big Issue app.

“Following a significant marketing drive over 10,000 subscriptions were sold in the first seven weeks, with this number continuing to grow,” the article notes.

“Readers had the option to buy either a three or six-month subscription, or make a one-off donation to help the vendors and to keep the magazine going.”

UK celebs Chris Packham and others helped raise awareness and spur sign-ups through social media. This wide exposure supported new retail sales as well, with retailers like Sainsbury’s and many others offering premium space to the project.

Digital access to the content was made available through Joe Wicks, a British fitness coach with a huge following who’s been dubbed “the nation’s PE teacher.”

People could support The Big Issue without having to leave the house. Joe Wicks pushed this across all of his social channels, with the posts receiving 60,000+ likes across the platforms.

“Moments of light came unexpectedly,” writes The Big Issue’s Paul McNamee. “There was something moving, unforgettably so, about seeing social media messages from readers receiving their subscription editions for the first time.

It was a simple validation, a bright torch through the fog. Those early, heart-filling moments will remain with me.”

It was an “all hands on deck” moment for the magazine, and it worked. Vendors returned to on-street sales last month as COVID-19 numbers were brought under control in the UK.

As McNamee notes, there is still work to be done, yet the outpouring of support for a good magazine and a good cause makes me think they’ll find what they need.

David Pilcher
VP of Sales & Marketing, Freeport Press

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