Danish street paper gives out free edition to boost readership and celebrate vendors

With every sale representing a vital step towards a better life, it might seem a bold move to ask vendors to hand out their street paper for free.

But that’s exactly what Danish street paper Hus Forbi is doing this month to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and let vendors say thank you to their loyal customers.

Hus Forbi anniversary cover and the original poster it's based on, both by Danish cartoonist Adam O

Editor Poul Struve Nielsen told INSP the idea to release a free copy of the monthly magazine actually came from one of his vendors, Michael.

“Why not give something away for free? We are always at the receiving end. We should thank our readers for their support by giving them a free publication,” suggested Michael during an anniversary committee meeting of Hus Forbi staff, board members and vendors.

The result is a special edition that focusses exclusively on the achievements of the street paper and those who sell it.

To ensure vendors don’t end up out of pocket, the free edition was released on 15 April – between the April and May editions of Hus Forbi.

Poul believes it will also help to promote Hus Forbi and build its readership in the long run. He adds that the special edition is already benefitting vendors.

“Because readers are so pleased with the vendors in general, and are getting a free magazine, they are tipping vendors instead. One vendor told me he almost made more money from this free publication than for the monthly,” he said.

“One vendor told me he almost made more money from this free publication than for the monthly.”

Hus Forbi is the only magazine in Europe to feature its own homeless and vulnerable vendors on the cover every month. But in a break from tradition, the special edition features a custom cover design by Danish cartoonist Adam O, who has also been a spokesperson for young squatters in Copenhagen.

To lure readers, it depicts a recognisable image in Copenhagen but with an added twist.

“Adam O. is probably the most talented upcoming cartoonist in Denmark. He did a remake from a very famous old tourist poster from the [tourism] organisation Wonderfuld Copenhagen,” explained Poul.

“I’ve had Adam’s poster on the wall in my office for a while so I had to ask him to be part of the anniversary magazine and requested he do him something similar for the cover.”

The original poster portrays a positive image of Copenhagen with people smiling at a policeman as he stops traffic so a mother duck and ducklings can cross the road.

Adam’s version instead shows a Hus Forbi vendor stopping a group of angry police to let the ducks cross. He swapped the police for a group of smiling street paper readers surrounding the vendor on the anniversary cover.

Hus Forbi vendor and customer, 91. Credit Claus Sjödin. (L) Hus Forbi vendors swap tales of sleeping rough. Credit Mette Kramer Kristensen (R)

Inside, the magazine focuses on uplifting stories about Hus Forbi and its vendors. This includes a young vendor’s interview an older colleague about living on the street. Another vendor speaks to a 91-year-old reader who has bought the paper since it first launched, while others create photo postcards for their customers.

It also shares interviews with past Hus Forbi editors and lists some of the awards the paper has won over the years. Among them is the 2013 INSP Award-winner for best photograph, won by Helga C. Theilgaard’s striking portrait depicting a homeless man taking a bath.

The anniversary edition is the latest in a year-long promotional campaign to mark 20 years of the paper and raise Hus Forbi’s profile.

Hus Forbi is already hugely popular across Denmark. It was the country’s most widely read paid-for, monthly magazine in 2015 – with more than half a million readers per edition. It is also one of the highest circulating street papers in the world, averaging around 90,000 sales per monthly edition in 2014.

Poul hopes the anniversary campaign will further improve on those statistics, so Hus Forbi can support even more vendors.

It is already proving to be a smart strategy. In January, a 30-second cinematic trailer commissioned by Hus Forbi to highlight the reality of homelessness went viral.

Produced in the style of a Hollywood superhero movie trailer by leading Danish production company The Woerks, The Invisible Man was initially screened in cinemas across Denmark.

The thought-provoking film has gone on to attract a slew of media coverage and helped drive a 10% sales increase in February, according to Poul.

It was also shared online with a clever condition on the film’s website meaning it would only become visible once shared on Facebook.

The marketing strategy was especially poignant given that, just one month earlier on 12 January, a homeless man was found dead in one of the main streets in Denmark. Hundreds of people had passed by him by without noticing.

“Very often the passers-by just look at something 200ft on the other side of the vendor and see right through the human standing right in front of them. So the aim of the campaign was to give the street paper’s vendors better visibility,” Poul added.

“The Invisible Man was a blockbuster with a lot of press attention and national TV coverage. Suddenly all other national media focused on the magazine. It was way beyond what I would have thought a street paper could do.”