Wednesday, October 01, 2003

“The Big Issue” – an experiment in corporate workfare?

Like Tony Blair’s New Labour – with whose ideology and inner circle of identities it shares much – Australia’s “The Big Issue” magazine is probably often thought of as vaguely progressive, or at least blandly benign. Personally, much of my own ambivalence has probably been because I don’t know whether to write for it (prestigious but no doubt unpaid), or sell it (the converse) – I am eminently qualified to do both.

Since the sacking of the magazine’s editor story blew up last week, though, I’ve become convinced that there is something seriously amiss with “The Big Issue”, lock stock.

If you want some general background and lowdown, go here. In summary, “The Big Issue” makes a loss, and treats its vendors badly while doing so. Two facts, which when combined, can only mean that the whole “helping people help themselves” ethos of the magazine is a complete crock. Rather, the underlying socio-commercial structure gives vendors a taste of the subsistence-wage whip, and with painting-roadside-rocks futility thrown in – the magazine’s national circulation is tiny, and doesn’t cover its $1.50/unit production costs (which low circulation is hardly a fault of the vendors, I hasten to add).

The question thus arises: couldn’t the corporate charity money currently sunk into the production costs of the magazine be better spent, as a more direct form of welfare? Alternatively, given the magazine’s low circulation in a nation full of left-leaning, literate inner-urban types (who I assume are its intended audience), couldn’t its content be revamped, so it is actually a successful seller? Heck, I’m no business head, but I would have thought that producing a magazine that lots of people would want to buy would be in the interests of everyone concerned. But that sort of ambition is a big “no”, according to Melbourne graphic designer and “The Big Issue” board member, Andrew Hoyne:

Mr Hoyne said the dispute was triggered by a struggle between Ms Antony, a freelance journalist who became editor in February, and Mr Manallack. "She has wanted autonomy, but we don't work like that. The Big Issue is not about producing a cutting-edge current affairs magazine. It's about making money for homeless vendors."

It’s official, then: “we” want the vendors to sell a shit product, because the less money they make, the more grateful they will be for every scrap. The “we”, BTW, refers to a board that comes entirely from the “suit#” end of town, and has only one* rep from the publishing industry on it – and yet insists on editorial control!

# Purists might object to a 35 y.o. graphic designer (Andrew Hoyne) being called a "suit". M'lud, I submit this blog in evidence, which is, incidentally, the most egregious instance of corporate cock-sucking I have ever read.

* The Age story mentions Peter Miller, general manager of sales and marketing for Pacific Publications in Sydney, as being a board member, while the website – which is obviously severely out of date – has no publishing industry reps on the board at all.

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