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Street papers announce digital initiative (and need your help to make it happen!)

The global street paper movement today unveiled its plans to offer a digital alternative to printed magazines.

Street papers exist to help homeless people earn a dignified income. From the world’s first street paper in New York City in 1989, they have grown to become a global movement against poverty and social injustice, with 122 editions now being published in 40 countries.

By scanning the QR code, readers can access
their local street paper on their smartphone or tablet. 

But with media consumption patterns shifting from print to digital, UK-based charity INSP (International Network of Street Papers) has been looking for a way to take the concept into the 21st century.

As well as revealing details of its vision for a global technology platform, INSP also announced a campaign to raise funds for the project, through ‘crowd funding’. Readers of street papers worldwide and the general public are being urged to donate to the Kickstarter appeal in the next 30 days to help fund the pilot scheme.

The digital street paper will enable homeless vendors to offer their customers two options – print or digital – priced equally. To retain the crucial vendor-buyer contact on the streets, customers choosing the digital version will buy an access card with a QR code which can be scanned or entered onto smartphones, tablets or desktop computers. The device will then download a digital edition containing all the content from the magazine. With lower production costs and print output, the digital street paper will increase efficiency.

The digital scheme will be piloted this summer in Britain and the USA. The first paper to trial the product is The Big Issue in the North in Manchester, followed by StreetWise in Chicago. If successful, the digital technology will be made available to all 122 street papers in the INSP network.

Vendor of The Big Issue in the North (UK)
[Photo: Rebecca Lupton]

INSP Executive Director Lisa Maclean believes the content of street papers is key to the success of the model, stating that:

“Homeless vendors are not selling fruit, phones or socks; they’re selling news and information. Street papers – both in print and digital form – can challenge public perceptions of poverty and social injustice. With more than 6 million readers and 12,000 vendors globally, they provide a powerful platform for unheard voices. We believe this project has the potential to become not only one of the world’s largest paid digital media platforms, but one of the most important, too.”

John Maxwell Hobbs, Head of Technology at BBC Scotland thinks the world is ready for digital street papers: “People are becoming more and more accustomed to reading online or reading on the go. Actually, if you’re buying on the street it’s easier because you might not want to have to carry the magazine around. It also has a better chance of being read, and has the advantage in being more ecological.”

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