Ed#460: Number Nine Million...

6 June 2014 Alan Attwood

Ed#460: Number Nine Million...

It may happen in Brisbane or Ballarat. In Sydney or South Australia. In Fremantle, WA, or Fitzroy, Melbourne. In Queensland or Queens Park. Quite simply, it could happen just about anywhere in Australia. But one thing seems clear: someone, somewhere, will buy the nine millionth copy of The Big Issue this month. With this edition. Yes, quite possibly the magazine you are reading right now. But there will be no buzzers sounding; no multi-coloured balloons raining down from the sky or ceiling. That’s not our style. You may be a winner. But your only prize will be (as usual) some good reading and the inner glow that comes from helping someone trying to help themselves.

Nine million magazines sold. That’s a figure nobody talked about when the first Australian Big Issue was sold (only in Melbourne) 0n 16 June 1996. Hang on… That will be 18 years ago this month. During the on-sale period for this magazine. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Two anniversaries coinciding with one edition. You couldn’t have planned it any better.

Regardless of how much (or little) you care for numbers, nine million magazines and 18 years add up to a positive survival story. For in the time The Big Issue has been on sale in Australia, first just in the Victorian capital and now all around the country, print publications have been in decline around the world. Newspapers have been hit especially hard, mainly because people now get their news elsewhere. Meanwhile, The Big Issue has grown. And although we have changed in some ways (you may be reading this via a digital-download card, for example), our fundamental purpose has remained the same: we exist to support our vendors. As was the case in 1996, half of the cover-price goes to the magazine vendor. Each sale represents a clear 100% profit. The Editorial in Ed#1 (above) had a mission statement: “The Big Issue aims to provide an opportunity for homeless and disadvantaged people to have a self-earned income while interacting positively with the community.” That hasn’t changed.

In a better world, of course, we wouldn’t still be here. In 1996, it might have been nice (if rather quixotic) to argue that in 18 years there would actually be no more homeless or disadvantaged people – and thus no need for The Big Issue to exist. Instead, that need is greater than ever. The gap between rich and poor is widening. Not only that, the recent federal budget suggested that those with least are soon likely to be hurting more. So on we go, acknowledging milestones such as 18 years and nine million sales. Yes, I know, the latter is not such an impressive number compared to, say, the 42.4 million sales of Michael Jackson’s Thriller record or 60 million sales of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. But nine million still represents an impressive pile of magazines. And it wouldn’t have happened without the support of you, the reader. So, from all of us here – in Editorial, Admin and (most importantly), our vendors – thank you. Oh yes, please hang on to this edition. Just in case we discover that the nine millionth mag actually did come with a special barcode, watermark or serial number.


IN 1996, Australia was still stuck in a long sporting drought that ended up stretching from 1974 to 2006. In the intervening years, an Australian male football team did not make it through to the World Cup. Which is, whatever the proponents of assorted oblong-ball codes may argue, a huge global sporting event. Now, for the third Cup in succession, the Socceroos are back. In this edition we celebrate this (with muted optimism) and the Cup itself, which begins soon. The month of June just keeps getting better and better…

» Alan Attwood is Editor of The Big Issue.

This article appeared in Ed#460 of The Big Issue magazine.