Since 1994, the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) has worked with the homeless to sell locally-produced newspapers or magazines as a way for them to earn a decent living.
The Glasgow, Scotland-based non-profit helps journalists set up weekly or monthly publications in cities globally. Homeless vendors buy the papers at a 50%+ discount and sell them for the full cover price. Profits are theirs to keep.
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The organization wants to be prepared for a digital future -- when consumers are digesting media widely on their smartphones and tablets. There are currently 122 editions of street papers, in 24 languages, that are available only in print.
"It was important to maintain the personal face-to-face model of the street papers initiative," Maree Aldam, INSP network services manager, tells Mashable.
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Many media outlets are facing drops in circulation and more modest ad revenue these days. For INSP, it's complicated. The NGO must figure out how to bring their paid publications onto the web while preserving the personal interaction that homeless vendors rely on.
"The reason why people buy street papers is slightly different than why consumers buy any other paper," Aldam says. "It's partly because of the connection to the vendor and doing some good as well. It's a part of the reason why circulation isn't affected as much as the print media."
Street Papers reaches 6 million readers worldwide with an "ever-growing circulation" in 40 countries. However, Aldam says: "things are changing so quickly with digital innovation. We'd like the model to be around and still be able to provide street papers for vendors to earn an income. It's a way to stay ahead of the game."
The INSP is kicking off their first Digital Street Paper Project pilot in July. Homeless vendors will be armed with print and digital copies -- for the same price. Readers can access the web-based publications with a printed coupon. Each card will come with a unique QR code. When the QR code is scanned on a mobile device, the digital edition will appear along with a personalized message from the vendor.
The project is currently on Kickstarter. INSP is hoping to raise an initial goal of $5,000. The money will go towards developing and maintaining the digital version of UK's Big Issue in the North -- a recognizable weekly magazine that sells for £2 an issue.
Raising $10,000 -- double the Kickstarter goal -- will help kick off the second digital pilot in Chicago.
It's all about learning from these initial pilot programs, representatives say. The pilot programs will help INSP streamline the process to make it as application in the future for other street papers as possible.
"There's a lot for us to learn," Aldam says. "The idea is that we want to build on this and eventually make this technology available for any street newspaper who wishes to use it in our network."
Their network is huge -- and still growing. Since 1994, more than 200,000 homeless vendors have received a hand up from the project. There are 12,000 vendors on the streets in the world at any one time, according to INSP's latest estimates. The goal is ultimately bringing social justice by providing a fair way for homeless individuals to earn a decent wage.
The INSP expects further growth from their digital program.
"The important thing is it doesn't change the model of the street paper," Aldam says. "It's still about journalism and independent medium. The vendors are still selling on the street and they have that connection with their customers and readers."
As traditional outlets look towards their online options for ad revenue, the network of street papers is hoping their organic solution to preserve vendor interaction of the street will benefit the global homeless population.
Images courtesy of the International Network of Street Papers
This story originally published on Mashable here.