By Brian Carome
Beginning January 2, 2013, the suggested contribution for a copy of Street Sense will increase from one to two dollars. At the same time, the per-copy cost that our vendors will pay for the paper will increase from 35 to 50 cents.
This will be the first time in our nine years of operation that we are asking our readers to contribute more for the paper. Since November 2003, when we published our first issue, the cost of just about everything has gone up – for the organization and for our vendors. In 2003, it cost us $1,340 to produce a single issue of the paper. Today that cost is $3,260, a 143 percent increase. In 2003, our nonprofit organization was managed, and the paper produced entirely by volunteers. Back then we published 12 times a year.
Today, a professional staff oversees production of the paper and management of the organization, and we publish 26 times a year. I serve as the full time executive director. The paper is produced by two professionals who work part-time: editor-in-chief Mary Otto, an award winning journalist and former reporter for The Washington Post; and managing editor Eric Falquero, a talented graphic artist and former Street Sense intern. They are ably assisted by a rotating cadre of editorial interns, aspiring journalists from colleges around the country who come to Street Sense for a semester or more. They gain academic credit, as well as the experience of reporting on issues affecting people living in extreme poverty that we hope they will carry with them into their professional careers.
While Street Sense has financially survived these last nine years, not enough of our vendors have been able to break the cycle of poverty. Since 2003, the overall cost of living has increased 24 percent nationally. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, DC has risen even more steeply. In April 2009, as Street Sense began to feel the impact of the economic downturn through a drop in individual giving, we asked vendors to pay a higher share of production costs, raising the per copy price they pay from 25 to 35 cents. Once again, we are asking vendors to pay more. But coupled with the contribution increase we are asking from our readers, vendors’ per-copy net profit will increase from 65 cents to $1.50.
For months now we have been crunching numbers, talking to vendors and surveying the practices of similar street papers across North America. We believe these rate increases are for the best of the organization and our vendors. You get the final say in this equation however. We hope that you will continue to support the vendors and read the paper and in so doing continue your partnership with us as we strive to end homelessness in Washington, DC. (Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)