It’s been a whirlwind few months for the Big Issue. On 20 March, just days before the UK government announced a nationwide lockdown in the wake of the pandemic, it made the decision to take its vendors off the streets indefinitely. The immediate impact couldn’t have been much more dramatic; with vendor sales making up the majority of the organisation’s business model its revenue was slashed by 80% overnight, while the vulnerable people who rely on selling the magazine to earn a living were forced to stay off the streets.
The team at the Big Issue knew that the decisions they made in the following days and weeks would be vital to the future of the organisation. “We knew the lockdown was coming so we worked really collaboratively and quickly as a team and went with our gut instincts,” says group marketing and communications director, Zoe Hayward. “In terms of making decisions and acting quickly on the things we needed to do, I think we had to do that because we had to survive, and we had to survive not only for us, but to support the vendors that we support now and that we’ll need to support in the future.”
Within days, the team had reimagined the Big Issue’s business model for our new reality. It launched an appeal fund to generate financial support from the public, with 50% of proceeds going straight to the vendors themselves, and shortly after that unveiled a new subscription business that would allow consumers to continue to buy the magazine while vendors were unable to sell it. The three-month subscription cost £32.50, and also included the option to download a digital edition of the magazine through Zinio.