Workshop: street paper exchange

Along with networking and panel discussions, the first day of the INSP conference also featured the street paper exchange, a range of practical workshops focusing on the main areas of street paper operations.

The street paper exchange is not just for new and smaller street papers to get advice from more established operations, but also for the established members to discuss how they can continue to succeed and adapt to the changing media landscape.

The workshop is split into five groups, each focusing on different aspects of the street paper model with topics and discussion geared towards specific expertise within the industry.

Workshop 1: support programs and
vendor support services.

Group 1 focused on social support programs and vendor support services. Led by social worker Johannes Denninger (Distribution at BISS, Germany) and National Sales Manager at The Big Issue UK, Des Sharples, the group discussed how street paper sales affect the lives of the vendors that sell them. Vendor support is at the heart of the work of street papers and the circulation of papers directly impacts the vendors’ income and personal development. The session tackled various questions from street paper distribution and pitch management to sales training, incentive schemes and other social support program.

Among the issues discussed was the challenge of vendor motivation,
especially retaining vendors after they first sign up for the
job. The participants agreed that incentives are the most important tool
in vendor motivation. Incentives could be giving the vendors free
copies of the magazines for them to sell or merchandise, such
as t-shirts or hats, once they reach certain sale numbers. It was also
suggested that joining forces with other projects, such as music or
sports groups for the vendors, can be a motivation boost.

Group 2 was aimed at the street papers’ editorial staff, with experienced editors Alan Attwood (Editor of The Big Issue Australia) and Anlov Mathiesen (CEO and Editor-in-Chief of =Norge) leading a discussion on editorial development.

Workshop 2: Lead by
Alan Attwood (The Big Issue Australia)
and Anlov Mathiesen (=Norge, Norway)

How do street papers ensure that their existing readership remains interested and that they continue to attract new readers? All delegates agreed that the front cover of their paper was the most important element in the selling process.
Bambi, Dalai Lama or politician? There were different opinions on
which cover works the best. Alan Attwood
argued: “Celebrities sell”. Thomas Anthun Nielson (Megafon, Norway) described a different experience: “It’s the brand that matters, not the content– I put my ex-girlfriend on the cover, just for fun!”

Workshop 2: Editorial development.

Delegates discussed what makes street papers unique in the media landscape and shared ideas on what kind of content street paper readers want. Alan Attwood encouraged editors to integrate the vendors’ experiences and
feedback into the editorial process while maintaining a high quality of
content. “Once I got a wake-up call from a vendor who told me: ‘You have to stop indulging yourself! I want to sell that bloody thing!'” The workshop also raised questions about the ethics and responsibilities of street papers. Is it possible, or even desirable, for street paper editors to be journalists and activists at the same time? “We don’t want to be left-wing, but we are definitely activists,” Birgit Müller (Hinz&Kunzt, Germany) said.

Leaders of workshop 3:
Patricia Merkin (Hecho en Bs As, Argentina)
and Hildegrad Denninger (BISS, Germany)

Group 3 focused on strategic partnerships and fundraising. As a result of the global economic downturn, fundraising has become increasingly difficult in many countries, as more organisations compete for a smaller pot of funds. Hildegard Denninger (Managing Director of BISS, Germany) and Patricia Merkin (Managing Director and Editor of Hecho en BsAs, Argentina) spoke of the importance of creativity in fundraising and using new tools and ideas to increase support. Sustainability of the street paper model was also at the forefront of discussion, with developing strategic partnerships to secure long term support being pointed to as a key element for sustainability. The participants shared their ideas of raising money for the street papers, such as sponsorship for the vendors to provide their employment, micro-credits or the advertisement-acquiring.

Workshop 4: Generating our own income.

Group 4, also for fundraisers, worked on generating independent income for street papers. Amy Roe (Editor of Real Change, USA) and Gabriele Koch (INSP Director and Fundraiser at Hinz&Kunzt, Germany) were leading the discussion of how street papers can increase their income. Adjusting the price and frequency of the magazine were mentioned as possible measures, but the discussion went further: how about creating special issues that could be sold beside the magazine? Do subscriptions really need to be a taboo? And how should it all be financed?

Leaders of workshop 4:
Amy Roe (Real Change, USA) and
Gabi Koch (Hinz&Kunzt, Germany)

Group members were eager to share their ideas – one delegate wanted to create a calendar, while another was thinking about cooperating with INSP and well-known musicians. Another was brainstorming on how to create “social street maps” (maps where you could find all the interesting sights in a city, thus trying to understand more of the social difficulties within). All of a sudden Arkady Tyurin  from Put Domoi (Russia) silenced the room: “I would just like to remind that ‘impossible’ is just an opinion.

Group 5, chaired by Trudy Vlok (INSP Vice-Chair and Managing Director, The Big Issue South Africa) and Steven Persson (INSP Secretary and CEO, The Big Issue Australia), saw the more established papers with large vendor numbers discuss the challenges that they face: be it a decrease in sales, the distant love” (Almut Maldfeld, Asphalt, Germany) which is often displayed towards street papers, or the fact that papers want to do the very best for their vendors, keeping in mind that they are businesses and not charities.

Trudy and Steven shared their business strategies and talked about how their papers turned into success stories. According to them, building relationships is crucial, as well as having a good distribution network and maximizing your brand (the street paper). In the end, Fay Selvan, Group Chief Executive from The Big Issue in the North (UK), concluded: “The open-minded and can-do-attitude was very nice, as well as the numerous stimulating ideas provided by the speakers. I take away from the workshop that you should always look forward and not to get stuck by what went wrong in the past.”