By Sayuri Kusama, The Big Issue Japan
Four versions of The Big Issue title from Asia and Oceania gathered in Osaka in February, represented by editorial boards and sales support teams from South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and Japan, to attend the first ever INSP coordinated Asia-Pacific regional meeting.
As always, INSP organizes an annual conference for the entire street paper network – the Global Street Paper Summit – as it will this year in Hannover hosted alongside the local street paper Asphalt. However, this was the first conference organized specifically for the Asia-Pacific region. INSP operations manager Zoe Greenfield also flew to Japan from Scotland to attend.
A walking tour of the Kamagasaki area (one of the largest communities of homeless people in Japan) and a welcome party took place the day before the conference, and 24 attendees were able to meet and chat with each other while eating sushi and handmade takoyaki [battered octopus balls], an Osaka specialty.
The conference began the following day, with presentations on the vendors and customers of each magazine, and a focus on the topic of effective sales, and interactions between readers and supporters. The Taiwanese and South Korean editions, both launched in 2010, have been working from the start to create a magazine that targets young people aged 20-35. The Australian magazine, launched in 1996, acknowledges that the university student-aged demographic of readers they initially targeted are now in their forties, and so is consciously striving for content that can be enjoyed by all generations including young people.
While the condition to register as a vendor in Japan is homelessness, many vendors in Taiwan are registered under mental health or physical disabilities, while the Australian edition adopts an even more flexible stance, where anyone who struggles to, or is unable to, immediately perform other work may also register.
A variety of practices in sales support were also reported. A mechanism is being devised in South Korea that automatically responds to inquiries on Facebook chat such as “Any vendors nearby?”. In Australia, a breakfast meeting is held on the first day of the release of the latest issue to boost the morale of the vendors. Sharing these ideas is an aspect of all street paper meet-ups that delegates find particularly useful. The difficulty of analysing sales was a common issue in all countries.
Mr. Shoji Sano, chairman of The Big Issue Japan, said: “We hope this conference can serve as the impetus for our magazines to work together to achieve something real.” The seeds of collaboration between this set of street papers were planted in Osaka. This was a stimulating conference where attendees were inspired by the knowledge and experiences of other magazines, were able to view their own editions from an objective perspective, and left with a new sense of purpose.