Spare Change News Looks to go Electronic

Spare Change News co-founder and board chair James Shearer frequently reminds me that “Spare Change News is immortal” because of the remarkable track record of against-the-odds  survival over the last 25 years.


When James tells me this, I smile and offer a counterpoint. Perhaps Spare Change owes its 25 years of uninterrupted service because of a long series of guardian angels.


It is undeniable that Spare Change continues because of the kindness of both generous donors and dedicated volunteers. For this bridge between the haves and have nots to remain strong, individual heroes on both sides are essential to the ongoing survival of our mission.


Back in 1992, when a group of homeless people decided they wanted to create a newspaper to prove that homeless people could empower themselves, print newspapers were still the entertainment of choice for Boston commuters.


Today, anyone who rides the T can attest to the reality that over half of the passengers are engrossed in an activity on a smartphone. This is the age of digital media, and Spare Change is committed to providing its customers with options that go beyond our print newspaper. Many of you are familiar with our website (, but a few of you have asked why we don’t offer a digital subscription. The first and most important reason is that we feel an essential part of being a Spare Change reader is to buy a paper from one of our vendors who is seeking to make a better life for themselves.


Yet, while the relationship aspect of Spare Change remains primary, we’d like to address the requests of those of you who are interested in having online access to each issue and also to have the option of paying for the paper electronically.


This spring, Spare Change has been working closely with three MIT doctoral students who decided to accept the business challenge of coming up with a strategy to introduce both electronic payment and digital subscription options. MIT has a business consulting club (VCG), and we were privileged to work with Yiou He, David Born and Eric Alt.


The VCG team compared 14 platforms for electronic payment (four card-swipe services, six online webpage payment services, three cellphone payment options and one SMS/QR code option). Based on specific limitations connected to a salesforce of independent contractors, the team concluded that the Square Device offered the best value.


The next problem the VCG team sought to address was the most effective way to introduce digital subscriptions (and perhaps digital sponsorships of individual vendors). The conclusion was to create a Web version of vendor biographies that could include a vendor specific Paypal button in addition to providing information that would allow readers to find “their” vendor that included location and typical hours of selling.


As Spare Change seeks to engage a new generation of both vendors and customers, we are so grateful to Yiou, Eric and David for giving us a road map to move Spare Change further into the 21st century. We are currently seeking corporate (or individual) sponsors who are interested in partnering with us as we offer these new options for our readers.
The MIT VCG team joins a long line of kind volunteers who have allowed Spare Change to survive in a world in which most small independent papers have gone under. Thank you!  

Katherine Bennett is executive director of the Homeless Empowerment Project, publisher of Spare Change News. She can be reached at and welcomes all questions, concerns, and feedback.