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Big Issue sellers could soon be flogging QR Codes

Homeless move into digital downloads

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Glasgow-based INSP, which represents magazines distributed by the homeless, is planning to go digital - assuming it can raise enough cash to pay for some trials.

The plan is to allow hard-up vendors to buy cards as well as copies of publications to flog; each card has a unique QR code permitting the bearer to download a digital copy of one of the 122 magazines represented by the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) around the world. INSP's stable includes the UK's Big Issue.

The Kickstarter-organised project is looking for $5,000 to fund trials over the summer, but as Kickstarter is only for Americans, the project has to emphasise the US connection by pretending to be in Chicago.

The INSP does count the Chicago-covering StreetWise among its membership, but the idea is to apply the same technology across the 40 counties where member titles operate, or most of them.

The premise of Street Papers is that homeless people buy copies of publications at half the cover price, and then sell them while keeping the profit. But those buying the magazine aren’t just giving to charity, they're buying a magazine that has to compete with other titles that are increasingly going free, or electronic, or both, and that's prompted the project.

The quality of street papers varies widely: INSP represents titles from Honolulu to Tromsø in Norway. Your humble Reg hack has a soft spot for the Big Issue since the cover-mounted CD introduced us to The Crocketts' Will You Still Care almost a decade ago, although it's had a lot of decent content since then (skipping lightly over the exclusive interview with kids' telly character Sportacus).

The iPad hasn't quite rescued print publishing yet, and all the paper-based titles are wrestling with their vision for the future and having to face serious changes to their business. Street papers also have to move with the times, even if it means selling QR Codes rather than newspapers. ®

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