THE RIGHT STUFF #8 – 20 years of The Big Issue
The achievements and success of The Big Issue are no small feat.
Is the news getting you down? Old Rupert Murdoch and his mates got you feeling like the world’s going to tear itself apart at any moment? Fear not, for The Right Stuff column assures you of at least one thing: to kick that growing cynicism aside and join us on the highway to optimism – destination: Hope Town*. The Right Stuff is your weekly dose of the news you deserve; from the mouths of people you may not have heard before. I can’t guarantee it’ll always be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but life’s not like that either, is it? Arthur Miller once said that a good newspaper is “a nation talking to itself” The people you’ll hear from in The Right Stuff are speaking to us and all we’ve gotta do is listen!
*Figuratively speaking, not that place in the Bahamas
The tall and wiry frame of an older man barely fills the baggy high-vis vest that hangs loosely on his shoulders. He is grinning widely and calling out something I can’t quite hear. The fluorescent yellow of the vest is a stark contrast to the grayscale spectrum of suits marching past in all directions. The suits continue forth with indifference in the morning rush hour. Suddenly a lady with blonde hair tied in a tight bun stops just in front of the man with the vest. The pair chat away happily and from my view it seems as though they’re cracking a few jokes – there’s a certain familiarity there. The woman in the suit hands over a ten dollar note and receives a glossy magazine and a few gold coins in return. The pair exchange goodbyes and head off in different directions.
If you live in any of the big cities in Australia, you’ve probably seen this an exchange like this happen. This year celebrates twenty years of The Big Issue in Australia. Initially formed in Britain, the idea was brought to Australian shores in 1996, debuting in Melbourne in June of that year. Now the social enterprise has over 500 vendors selling in locations across Australia, from Brisbane to Melbourne, across to Adelaide and Perth. Each vendor across the country has their own unique story to tell – many are homeless while others might be marginalised or disadvantaged in some way.
Nathan, a vendor from Brisbane, isn’t just worried about money and sales from his work as a vendor for The Big Issue: “The sale, that’s just helping me get a home, but if I get a smile from you, that’s made my day.” Jock from Perth also likes the social side of selling The Big Issue: “I get out of the house and meet people every day and I am so grateful to everyone who buys a magazine and stops for a chat.”
The Big Issue’s financial model for vendors is quite simple. After signing a contract and agreeing to a particular code of conduct, vendors have the opportunity to buy The Big Issue for $3.50. Each vendor then resells it to the public – using their best sales tactics – for seven dollars, keeping the difference for themselves. The benefit of this model is that rather than a purely donation-based system of charity, you’re actually purchasing a genuine product – the magazine is filled with interesting articles on things like Australian culture, social justice issues, vendor profiles and sport.
There are hundreds of people like Nathan and Jock across the country – who all rely on The Big Issue to make ends meet. Next time you see one of those high-vis yellow vests give a thought to grabbing a copy, or even just stop for a friendly chat. You might be surprised at what you find.
The Big Issue accepts unsolicited material and pitches, so if you’re a writer that wants to get noticed, it could be a great opportunity. More info HERE.