Six million sales and counting for Nashville street paper The Contributor

After nine years in Nashville, street paper The Contributor has just celebrated selling its six millionth copy.

The weekly paper launched on 14 November 2007 and has since trained more than 2,800 people facing unemployment and homelessness to be vendors.

The cover of The Contrubutor's special edition - and their story in numbers. Courtesy of The Contributor

“Sometimes we can’t believe we’re still standing: a print newspaper (when print publications are shutting down across the country) sold by homeless and formerly homeless vendors,” said The Contributor’s Managing Editor, Amelia Ferrell Knisely.

“But I think two things keep our organisation moving forward: the hard work of our vendors and the community of Nashville. We have loyal readers and supporters who care for our vendors and support our journalism.”

Following the same model as all of INSP’s network of street papers, Contributor vendors become the boss of their own micro-business. They buy papers for $0.75 each and sell them on for $2.00. Collectively, the vendors have invested more than $1 million in the paper since it launched.

“We are so proud of our vendors,” said Amelia. “We’re honoured to help them succeed in their own micro-businesses.”

The Contributor marked the sales milestone with a special edition that featured a history of the newspaper, an endorsement of The Contributor from a Tennessee Congressman, and lots of writing and quotes from vendors.

Pioneering vendor Curtis shares his gratitude to his customers for all their support in helping him face his cancer battle. Credit: The Contributor

Pioneering vendor Curtis – who revolutionised how The Contributor worked when he became the first vendor to sell to people in their cars – had a starring role in the special edition.

Curtis started selling the paper in 2009, and managed to get himself into housing within a year of becoming a vendor thanks to the money he made from selling the paper.

“It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “It’s a good paper to support. I myself just love standing out there waving and smiling at people and meeting people. I never ask for money, I’m just trying to sell The Contributor.”

The 72-year-old has continued to sell the street paper on the corner of Nashville’s 8th Avenue South and Wedgewood despite currently battling bone and bladder cancer.

“I’m telling you, I could have not made it without the support of my customers. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my apartment and I wouldn’t have been able to pay for my surgeries,” he added.
Curtis was not alone in his reflection: for many of the vendors, the celebration was a chance to look back on their own progress.

“For a lot of them, this milestone was a chance to think back on how far they’ve come since they started selling The Contributor. They’ve went from homeless to housed, unemployed to business owners,” said Amelia.

In response to customer requests, The Contributor has just launched a ‘Find My Vendor’ feature on their website, which aims to make it even easier for people to continue to supporting the paper’s life-altering model and journalism. Check it out here.