The Big Issue, big news?

Big-Issue OMD

The beginning of 2012 saw a fundamental re-launch of ‘The Big Issue’ with what the UK editor Paul McNamee called ‘the most dramatic overhaul of The Big Issue’s image in its 20-year history’. A number of new columnists, such as “Britain’s most controversial footballer” Joey Barton and the fearless, writer/broadcaster Sam Delaney, have joined to help the publication become more irreverent, provocative and independent-minded.  These changes were complimented by a redesign of the cover, logo and illustrations. But has the transformation really made a difference?

This weekly publication is a broadly targeted current affairs and entertainment magazine that uses homeless and vulnerably housed vendors as third party distributors at major commuter points across main cities in the UK. The vendors buy copies for £1.25 from the publisher, sell for £2.50 to the public and keep the difference, but do have to adhere to a rather strict no sale-no return policy, which one could argue has some distribution drawbacks for the publisher and harsh profitability implications for the vendor.

Most will wholeheartedly appreciate the noble mission the publisher is actively and seemly successfully perusing by promoting the “hand up, not a hand out” ethos of the magazine. However in terms of media consumption, the selling point of the magazine is the emotional tug to persuade a potential reader to pay £1.25 (which vendor’s keep) as a charitable donation ,rather than  the monetary value the reader is prepared to pay based on the quality of the publication.

Having said that, I have read some of the articles and they are good! Although the question I ask myself is this: “Are people willing to pay £2.50 for The Big Issue on their evening commute when they can probably just as easily occupy themselves with a free sheet such as Shortlist or The Evening Standard, or a news app on their iPhone?”.  For me personally, the answer is unlikely, unless that person feels strongly about supporting the charitable cause.

However, The Big Issue does hold a competitive advantage in its reach potential at the point of distribution; given the number of commuters that vendors encounter on weekly basis and the publisher’s flexibility with bespoke and unique advertising solutions, such as converting vendors into brand ambassadors. Despite this, it’s important to note that in order for these bespoke solutions to work there needs to be a distinctive synergy between the magazine, the brand and the context in which it is delivered.

Interestingly, The Big Issue are conducting a reader survey which will help them (and us) gain some important insights around readers’ attitudes towards the magazine, such as their motivation for buying and whether magazine offers value for money. Watch this space for the results and our thoughts.


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