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How do street papers survive in the digital age?

Fri, Aug 30, 2013

As paper pages turn into digital downloads and cash payments are replaced by debit cards and digital transactions, street papers must quickly adapt to the fast-changing nature of this technological world. On the second day of the 2013 International Street Paper Conference, delegates were asked, “How do street papers survive in the digital age?”

[From left to right] Dirk Meerkotter, Aaron Israelson, Christian Lisseman, Brittany Langmeyer and Christoph Knorn.  Photo: Stephanie Dillig

[From left to right] Dirk Meerkotter, Aaron Israelson, Christian Lisseman, Brittany Langmeyer and Christoph Knorn.
Photo: Stephanie Dillig

Christoph Knorn from award-winning international design and technology agency CONRAD CAINE opened the day by discussing the approaches of mainstream media with regard to digital output and how their actions are relevant to street papers. He also explained the challenges and opportunities that digital media is bringing. He asserted, “Print is not dead, but shift happens.” He said that there has always been a trend for convenience in media – just as buying music on iTunes is easier than getting a CD in the record store – and that street papers should be aware of this trend when developing new business models. The most important aspect for him: “Never let reality stop your imagination.”

The day’s panel followed Knorn’s discussion and included Knorn, Christian Lisseman (The Big Issue in the North), Dirk Meerkotter (The Big Issue South Africa), Aaron Israelson (Faktum, Sweden) and myself representing StreetWise in Chicago. The discussion was moderated by Sean Condon, Executive Director of Megaphone (Canada). Each of us discussed our publication’s personal projects to keep up with trends in technology and ensure the relevance of our publications.

Here are some examples of what each panelist’s paper is doing to keep up with the technological times:

The Big Issue in the North (UK)
Lisseman explained their pilot scheme, in which customers could get a digital copy of The Big Issue in the North (UK) for their smart phone by buying a QR code from vendors, maintaining the interaction between vendors and the public. Therefore, vendors will sell access to content rather than just pure content.

The Big Issue South Africa
Meerkotter reviewed their digital subscription model. They’ve created a digital magazine application, enabling readers beyond its vendors’ Cape Town selling area to purchase the magazine. In buying the digital app, readers will be supporting vendors, as any profits made from the digital app go directly to The Big Issue’s social development and job creation programs. The first three apps were released in December for iPad, iPhone and Android devices and are available on iTunes and Google-Play.

Faktum (Sweden)
Iasraelson talked about Faktum’s digital marketing campaign called “Faktum Hotels,” designed to draw attention to the sad reality of those living on the streets. Visit www.faktumhotels.com to view the site, which says, “In Gothenburg there are about 3,400 homeless. Most of them tend to find shelter with friends or in shelters, but some sleep under the open sky. We have selected 10 places where they are likely to spend the night – and made them possible to book. Just like any hotel.” Visitors are then offered the option to book a stay in one of these locations where a homeless individual would rest for the night. This campaign was designed to pull focus to the issue of homelessness in Gothenburg and inspire people to empathize with and advocate for those living without a home.

Megaphone (Canada)
Condon explained a very interesting feature which his paper has implemented: the so-called “vendor finder,” which enables buyers to track down their nearest vendor online. Users may go to www.megaphonemagazine.com/vendors and type in their location to find a list of the vendors nearest to them.

StreetWise (Chicago)
During the panel, I talked about how StreetWise allows its customers to purchase the magazine by using PayPal on their smart phone. We did this largely because our vendors would constantly ask us if we would find a way to help them receive payments from customers who do not carry cash on them. (See Page 15)

– Written by Brittany Langmeyer, assisted by prepared materials

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