Big Issue Vendor

Why books matter to The Big Issue

At The Big Issue we’re all about dismantling poverty through prevention. Literacy is a cornerstone of this.

This content was originally published inside this week’s magazine. Find your local vendor to read more.

Literacy is far from a given for everyone. The Literacy Trust reckon that 7.1 million adults – or 16.4 per cent – in England have poor literacy skills, for Wales it is one in eight adults and in Scotland more than a quarter of adults have been knocked back by an inability to read and write.

It is imperative that people have access to books whatever their income

For those figures to be improved, it is imperative that people have access to books whatever their income, whether through libraries or a visible presence of bookshops in town and cities. But high streets have been hollowed out by the collapse of businesses both big and small, most recently Thomas Cook, leaving vacant units all over the country.

Footfall continues to drop – down around two per cent this year alone, say the British Retail Consortium – while online giants Amazon continue to hoover up business.

But high streets are more than just a place to stock up on some fast fashion, they are the beating heart of communities, they are the place where people on the fringes of society can go to be socially included and stave off loneliness, they are where Big Issue vendors sell the magazine.

It is vital that independent bookshops continue to be a part of them – and figures suggest they are bucking the trend somewhat.


There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

The Booksellers Association’s membership figures suggest that after 20 years of decline, indie member numbers have increased in the last two years, albeit just by 15 stores, with 883 now on Britain’s streets. Without them we risk eroding cultural capital, closing off a place of discovery to find the books that open up new worlds and boost the literacy skills that open up new opportunities.

Independent bookshops are increasingly offering more than just shelves of bestsellers and classics. They are the places to hold events celebrating literacy, reading and ideas with communities building up around them that offer a place for the socially excluded.

Those communities can do powerful things – as demonstrated by the Big Green Bookshop’s campaign to distribute 8,000 copies of Greta Thunberg’s book, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, into the hands of kids across the UK.

We will continue to champion their cause as we have done since our #WhyBooksMatter campaign kicked off 2017.

It has been central to Big Issue founder Lord John Bird’s work both in and out of the House of Lords. The cross-bench peer invited the Independent Bookshop Alliance to the Lords last year as 130 indies teamed up to take on the might of Amazon and Waterstones.

Literacy is also at the heart of Lord Bird’s latest venture: the free Chapter Catcher magazine.

As he puts it: “Every last bookshop is precious to us, our quality of life, our literature, our public spaces and communities.”

When illiteracy costs the UK £81bn a year and every £1 spent on books generates £1.91 in the wider economy, it makes sense both financially and socially to fight for our independent bookshops.

And as long as literacy greases the wheels of social mobility, The Big Issue will continue that battle on #BookshopDay and beyond.

If you can’t find a vendor on your local high street, you can order this week’s Bookshop Day Special from our The Big Issue Shop