Vendors help Danish street paper Hus Forbi become most read publication in Denmark

INSP member Hus Forbi is now the most widely read paid-for, monthly magazine in Denmark – with over half a million readers per edition.

According to the official quarterly statistics from Gallup, the street paper secured an incredible readership of 526,000 in the first half of 2015.

This was an increase from 497,000 in the second half of 2014.

Hus Forbi vendor Philip. Photo: Mette Kramer Kristensen

Editor Poul Struve Nielsen said he is delighted that sales are soaring, and that Hus Forbi is reaching more readers.

“The readership achievement is important for two reasons,” he said. “First, it is easier to sell something that people want to read and second, because we campaign in journalism to support the case of the homeless and socially marginalised.”

Hus Forbi is also one of the highest circulating street papers in the world, averaging around 90,000 sales per monthly edition in 2014.

“This is the result of 19 years of serious work by everyone involved, and especially by our vendors, who have been ultimately good ambassadors for the product,” Poul added.

Hus Forbi works with approximately 800 vendors in 11 cities and towns across Denmark, including Copenhagen and Holstebro. Vendors sell the paper for 20DKK (£1.97/ €2.68) and keep 40% of the cover price.

Poul puts the success down to his editorial strategy, which places Hus Forbi vendors at the very heart of the paper.

“I think that ownership is key,” said Poul. “The vendors really feel like this is their paper and it’s important – it tells their story and focuses on their situation.

“If you made a survey to find out what the most popular topics are, I think people would say reality TV, pop stars, etc. We do none of this. We only focus on people who are in a situation similar to the vendors and some news, politics and social issues.

“So you have to say it’s because of the vendors. They know the product very well and they have the face-to-face interactions with readers. Maybe that’s something that people miss nowadays.”

Vendors star on every cover of Hus Forbi

In that sense, Hus Forbi is not unique in the street paper movement. But it is one of a very few street papers to consistently feature only vendors on its front cover. It is the only magazine of any sort in Europe to feature their own homeless and vulnerable vendors on the cover every month.

Even an exclusive street paper interview with Pope Francis, or a Hus Forbi interview with the Danish Prime Minister, didn’t come close to bumping a vendor from the front page.

Given Hus Forbi’s increasing readership, the strategy clearly works. For Poul, it’s all about cultivating human interest and reinforcing the interaction between vendor and customer.

“You can identify with the vendor in the street and see a homeless person on the cover and know that if you buy this street paper you will get to meet people who are in that position,” he said.

“Identification is about emotions, so we tap into that when we put our focus on real people. We can bring facts and news but you need real people in the magazine, both when you read it and when you buy it – you get affected.”

The incredible, eye-catching vendor portraits that make Hus Forbi stand out in terms of design are taken by photographer Mette Kramer Kristensen, who is employed part-time by the paper. Poul hopes to take on Hus Forbi’s first part-time journalist next year if his tight budget will allow it.

Hus Forbi vendors Simon and Marlene. Photo: Mette Kramer Kristensen

Another of the veteran journalist’s strategies has been to involve vendors, homeless and socially vulnerable people in his editorial planning.

He will often sit down with vendors and others who have experienced homelessness – some of whom also sit on Hus Forbi’s board – to develop ideas for content. Their lived experience often informs how Poul and his team of freelance journalists will approach a certain story or topic.

“I treat it like a consultancy,” Poul said. “Their thinking is much more practical. They get things that come from real life and street life – you get the unique perspective that we actually want to have in the magazine.”

When Hus Forbi secures an interview with a well-known personality, such as Denmark’s Prime Minister, a vendor will often be asked to conduct the interview, accompanied by a journalist.

Poul hopes that next year approximately 20% of Hus Forbi will be written by vendors and/or people who have experienced homelessness.

“It’s our strategy to involve them a lot more in the editorial work and to try to develop their writing,” he added.

“It was very inspirational to be involved in the Vendor Writing workshop at the INSP Summit in Seattle with [Canadian street paper] Megaphone and Denver Voice. They both run very strong writing programmes for vendors. And also to meet Speak Up magazine [an American publication based in Charlotte, North Carolina which is written entirely by vendors].

“It was extremely good to talk to someone about how we can actually do this.”

Hus Forbi vendor Gunnar. Photo: Mette Kramer Kristensen

Hus Forbi will be one of several INSP street papers to celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. Poul and his team intend to mark the milestone by planning a celebratory event for vendors every month in 2016, including a photo exhibition.

Seeing Hus Forbi’s readership and circulation figures continue to rocket would be an added bonus. Poul has some advice for street papers looking to do the same.

“They should focus on the vendors, support them and make sure that the vendors really like the product – which of course I’m sure they already do!” he said.

“You must also deliver some quality journalism that people want to read again and again. Without vendors recommending the magazine and giving people a very good impression of themselves and what they represent, it wouldn’t be possible to have so many readers.

“They are out there in a positive way and I think that’s a very important part of it.”

All photos courtesy of Mette Kramer Kristensen