Big Issue sellers in Manchester to go digital

The pilot scheme will start later this month on the run up to Christmas Credit: Press Association

Sellers of the Big Issue are to to offer customers a digital version instead of their normal paper purchase in a pilot scheme in Manchester which could be replicated around the world.

The pilot will start on October 29 when the next edition of the Big Issue in the North goes on sale, and will roll out across the North of England in the following weeks.

Crucially, the buyer will still interact with the on-street vendor to get the digital version. Customers will buy an access card which carries a QR code, similar to a barcode, which can be read by smartphones, tablets and PCs. It opens up a link to download the digital version of the paper.

If the Manchester pilot is successful a further pilot will run in the US with a street paper in Chicago and ultimately could be rolled out globally.

Caroline Price, director at The Big Issue in the North, said: "Manchester is the right place to trial the world's first digital street newspaper; we are a digitally-savvy city with a vibrant young community who we hope will support this initiative. This is not about replacing our traditional print magazine; it is about moving with the times and giving people a choice in how they read the magazine."

Street papers like The Big Issue in the North, exist to help homeless and vulnerably housed people earn a dignified income. The first street paper started in New York in the late 1980s and since then the concept has grown into a global movement against poverty and social injustice with more than 120 different titles now published in 40 countries.

Vendor Craig currently lives in a hostel in Manchester and has been selling The Big Issue in the North for eight months. He said: "The magazine has to be competitive and if people stopped buying the magazine we'd all be out of work. Hopefully the new digital edition will reach a new audience. It's also a good move for vendors as the new cards are easier to carry around than the magazine. I hope the cards increase sales, that'll be good for everybody."

In the past year, street papers have helped more than 28,000 homeless vendors to earn an income, but with media consumption patterns shifting from print to digital, UK-based charity the International Network Of Street Papers (INSP) needed to find a way to create a digital business model.

Lisa Maclean, director of Glasgow-based INSP, said: "We believe this project has the potential to become not only one of the world's largest paid digital media platforms, but one of the most important too."

The pilot has been supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and through pro bono support from Grant Gibson of the Herald & Times Group and David Craik of Bright Signals, with digital design and development by 999 Design Group.