There are many good reasons to buy The Big Issue South Africa (TBI) regularly, but I’ll give you three. For one, submitted humbly, I’ve got another guest column in the latest issue, #200, which comes out today. You can get a sneak peek of the issue here, but you’ll need to visit a vendor to buy one, which brings me to reason number two: the magazine’s unique distribution chain.
You’ve probably seen it in action in the form of its over 250 micro-entrepreneurs—the otherwise unemployed or socially marginalised men and women who sell the magazine from intersections all around Cape Town. Having bought the magazine for R9, the vendors sell it for R18, pocketing R9 per copy in the process. In 2011, vendors made an average of about R1,355 a month each, which is nothing to snub your nose at. TBI’s work, however, doesn’t stop there. Helping vendors earn an income’s only the start. As a bona fide social enterprise—and, in the case, a registered non-profit organisation—TBI runs a social development programme that provides vendors with further education and training, counselling, career guidance and more, improving their lives and those of their families.
Finally, the third and perhaps most important reason to buy TBI is that it’s got bloody good content—news, opinion, features, arts and entertainment. When I first wrote for TBI, a friend asked, “Oh yeah, isn’t that the magazine written by homeless people?” Not quite, buddy, though it does have a regular ‘vendor’s corner’, a compelling section that publishes the vendors’ art, writing and personal stories.
Unfortunately the past few years have been tough for NPOs and media organisations alike, a double whammy for TBI, which is now facing a funding crisis. Catherine Gootkin, who’s been involved with the magazine for over 10 years, wrote this:
TBI survives partly on fundraising and partly on earned income from advertising in and sales of the magazine. In our current economic climate all three of these streams are running dry. Our MD, Trudy Vlok is currently filling two full-time roles as she is sole fundraiser on top of running the organisation. Despite her continued efforts, the funder’s budgets are getting tighter and tighter and, as I’m sure you’ve read, TBI is not the only NGO affected. Those of you in the publishing world will know that similarly advertisers are cutting their costs too. The crunch affects our readers too and sales are dropping despite the high quality, thought-provoking read The Big Issue has become.
This means for this excellent, socially impactful publication to survive, you reading this might have to do more. Sure, donations are great, but don’t forget, TBI is a business with a product, a great magazine with approximately 15,000 readers per issue. Are you an organisation buying ad space? Are you in charge of the CSI budget for a corporate? Are you a philanthropist, potential funder, sponsor, etc? Then contact TBI MD Trudy on 021-461-6690 or 083-973-9232 or mail her on firstname.lastname@example.org and pitch a mutually beneficial deal.