#VendorWeek 2019: Celebrating 9000 vendors selling street papers in 35 countries

4-10 February marks another instalment of #VendorWeek. The first week of the month is the time of the year for street papers across the world to come together to celebrate those central to their mission – the vendors.

Now in its seventh year, #VendorWeek provides an early opportunity to take stock of the year just gone, one that saw further challenges and obstacles placed in front of homeless and vulnerable people, whether street paper vendors or not – from rampant criminalisation tactics, through discrimination and poor access to housing, to the threat posed by an increasingly volatile climate and the dangers of sleeping on the street.

Big Issue South Africa vendor Ntombovuyo Cekiso

But #VendorWeek also provides an opportunity to look ahead, to the leaps and bounds made by individual street papers to boost the sales of their vendors, and to ever-successful examples of the street paper network rejoicing in their common purpose.

Speaking about the importance of #VendorWeek as a regular event in the street paper calendar, Josée Panet-Raymond, editor-in-chief of Montréal street paper L’Itinéraire, said: “Vendors Week is a great way of creating awareness on the importance and vitality of the street paper movement worldwide. L’Itinéraire is proud to be part of an effective and unique solution aimed at empowering the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

“The L’Itinéraire team and vendors are strengthened by our sense of belonging to a group of organisations like ours who work towards making the world a more just and better place for all.”

Street Roots vendor Jason

The week is about, and for, the 9000 vendors, selling in 35 countries, around whom the street paper mission revolves. There are once again plenty of things happening across the world to mark the occasion. Here is just a small helping of what to expect from a street paper near you.

#VendorWeek 2019 video

Building on the success of last year’s crowd-sourced video, INSP has been busy behind the scenes pulling together a different take for 2019, featuring vendors across the street paper network interacting with each other in a unique way. It’s the perfect opportunity to highlight the international reach, diversity and inter-connectedness of #ourvendors.

The video includes contributions from 60 vendors at 28 street papers across 19 countries. Watch it here.

Walking in a vendor’s shoes

Street paper vendors come from all walks of life, but many have found themselves, at one point or another, at a vulnerable moment. The reasons can be myriad – maybe they have found themselves homeless, or perhaps they are experiencing some other type of hardship – so it’s difficult to really know what they are going through.

What we can get an idea of is what it’s like to stand on the street and sell magazines as a vendor; maybe not the day to day highs and lows, the wins and the struggles, but at least a small insight into their job.

The Big Issue Australia's CEO selling event during #VendorWeek 2018

A selling event – or a ‘Big Sell’, as it’s often called – is one way of doing this: getting out on the streets, shadowing a vendor, and learning about the ins and outs of their work. These have become popular ways of celebrating #VendorWeek, with INSP members cajoling prominent figures – celebrities, politicians, business leaders – to take part, often giving a boost to vendor sales that day. This year that trend continues.

The Big Issue Australia will host another instalment of their CEO Selling campaign, with Australian business leaders from huge organisations like ANZ, the Australian Council of Social Service, Medibank, and more.

After encouraging nearly 50 members of the public – including politicians, musicians, civil servants and religious figures – to sell Big Issue North with vendors across the towns and cities of northern England last year, this week they will have a series of head to head selling challenges. On Monday evening, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham, the mayors of Greater Manchester and Merseyside respectively, will face off against each other, as will Lord Mayor Magid Magid of Sheffield and Jon McLure, frontman of the band Reverend and the Makers, on Thursday. There will be another high profile showdown on Wednesday, involving Jonny Tattersall, wicketkeeper for the Yorkshire cricket team.

Fay Selvan, chief executive of Big Issue North, said: “This year’s Big Sell promises to really cast a light on the challenges our vendors face. It’s great to see people from all sorts of fields give their time to support vendors, and experience the reality of selling on the streets in all weathers.

“I’m proud that we’re doing the Big Sell for the fifth year running, joining other street papers around the world in raising awareness of the challenges facing the people who sell such magazines and hopefully boosting their sales. And for those people doing the Big Sell with a competitive edge, may the best salesperson win!

Other street papers getting involved in like-minded projects include Mexico’s Mi Valedor, Philadelphia’s One Step Away, Denver VOICE and Macedonia’s Lice v Lice. Seattle’s Real Change will gather local celebrities for a similar sell-off on Wednesday, including the participation of Stone Gossard, guitarist in legendary Seattle grunge band Pearl Jam. Gossard will be paired with Real Change vendor Darrell Wren, who interviewed him for the street paper last year.

Gossard and Darrel during their interview last year (Photo by Matthew S. Browning)

Collaborating across oceans and borders

Like selling events, there are other features of #VendorWeek that have basically become traditions. One of these is collaborating with another street paper to bring together two vendors, from disparate places and backgrounds, via the wonders of technology, to talk to each other, leading to fascinating and heart-warming results.

Last year saw two street papers at opposite ends of Canada link up: L’Itinéraire and Megaphone.

For 2019, L’Itinéraire vendor Lynn spoke with Cindy, who sells street papers on the opposite side of the world for The Big Issue Australia. During the conversation, the two women reflected on their experience selling street papers, found that they had far more in common than they expected, and vowed to stay in touch, becoming Facebook friends.

Big Issue Australian vendor Cindy (left) and L'Itinéraire vendor Lynn (right)

Check back later in #VendorWeek to read the whole interview.

Getting the word out

Street papers have plenty of other innovative ways to get the message of their work out there, connecting their vendors with members of the public and making #VendorWeek special.

Getting to know vendors and street paper staff, out with the transactional environment of simply buying the street paper, is a great way to build relationships with readers and other potential audiences. In an attempt to do this, Montréal’s L’Itinéraire welcomed readers, community organisations, sponsors and partners to their office last year for their ‘Journée Portes Ouvertes’, or ‘Open Doors Day’. They will do the same on Thursday of this week, offering a glimpse of their editorial department, distribution centre and café, as well as a chance to speak to their vendors and programme leaders.

Luc Desjardins, the street paper’s executive director, said: “L’Itinéraire holds an ‘Open Doors Day’ because it is important to show the public the potential and many capabilities of our vendors. It’s not because you experience poverty and marginalisation that you can’t accomplish great things.

“Opening our doors to the general population allows us to inform people on our many services, ranging from housing and food assistance to social intervention and journalism training. L’Itinéraire is much more than a magazine!”

Other INSP members will be using #VendorWeek as an excuse to treat vendors. Chicago’s StreetWise plan to drop in on vendors’ pitches with coffee; The Big Issue Korea will dish out food to vendors to coincide with Seol Nal, Korean New Year; Sorgenfri, sold in Trondheim, Norway, will set up stands at pitches to spread the word of their work; and Mi Valedor will celebrate holy festival ‘Dia de Candelarias’ with tamales, and provide free dental appointments to their vendors. Swiss street paper Surprise will host a soup and movie night for its vendors.

Mi Valedor's #VendorWeek ad

Surprise's #VendorWeek ad

As always though, the most important thing about #VendorWeek is selling magazines and newspapers. And often the best way to do this is simply to continue providing vendors with high quality publications to sell to their customers. #VendorWeek can be a good excuse to move away from celebrity interviews or cultural features, and create editions of street papers focused on vendors themselves. Ljubljana’s Kralji Ulice, The Big Issue Australia, StreetWise, SurpriseMegaphone, Nashville’s The Contributor, Salzburg’s Apropos, Prague’s Nový Prostor, Tagessatz in Göttingen, Denver VOICE and countless other street papers, have vendor-related content in their current issues.

Socially- and social media-minded

INSP and its members have ramped up its use of social media in recent years to support the sale of the physical publications that are so integral to vendors. Despite their reliance on print media to support their mission, street papers have been at the frontier of using different social media platforms to boost the work they do.

This will be the same again in 2019, with the street papers mentioned above using their social media channels to promote campaigns and events, while countless others will use them to share the video, stories, posters and other coverage.

Maja Ravanska, who works in organisational management and research at Macedonian street paper Lice v Lice, said: “Social media is a very important aspect when it comes to Lice v Lice [Face to Face] and we are extremely careful with the content we provide there.

“Posts about our vendors are the most liked content on our Facebook page. With their success stories, we not only raise awareness about the issue of work integration among vulnerable people, but we are able to give inspiration for the general audience, encouragement and provoke interactions.”

The Big Issue (UK) vendor Brigitta Claudia (Credit: Jamie McFadyen)

You can get involved with celebrating vendors alongside the street paper community by using the usual hashtag: #VendorWeek. In 2018, we had over 10 million timeline deliveries and a reach of almost 5 million, and we hope with your help we can do even better this year.

Throughout the week, make sure you seek out your local vendor and buy a street paper.

Read more of our coverage of #VendorWeek 2019 here.