The Guardian have recently announced new free and paid-for membership packages moving them into the world of paid subscribers, a partial concession on their current free journalism policies. They describe the scheme as “bringing together diverse, progressive minds, journalistic skills and the best of what others create to give you a richer understanding of the world and the opportunity to shape it.”
To date, the Guardian has famously avoided paywalls unlike broadsheet rivals The Times, Telegraph and Financial Times, with their free mantra being widely questioned as a long-term business model. The upside to this approach has been building a media company which sits in the top three globally and consistently informs 105 million browsers around the world. Deputy Chief Exec, David Pemsel, said “That’s a huge audience for an operation formerly known as a newspaper. Amazingly, consider that The Guardian’s most recent print circulation counts only about 200,000 customers, plus another 100,000 or so digital customers. The Internet has been very good to the Guardian, with its unique position as ‘the world’s leading liberal voice’”.
The void between the 300,000 who currently pay for Guardian content in print or digital and the 105 million who read for free is where the membership scheme can come into tangible effect for the brand. If just 1% of the 105mn sign up for the free registration package, that’s over one million known customers. If 1% sign up for the cheapest annual package that’s £135m annual revenue even before additional purchases are made.
Respect and goodwill for the brand, in light of the Snowden NSA leaks, means that the Guardian’s standing has, in many ways, never been higher with broadcaster Graham Linehan one of a few to suggest that he won’t need a second invitation to invest in a membership.
The real draw for members will revolve around a newly purchased 30,000 square foot warehouse near the Guardian’s King’s Cross office. The redeveloped building, in the Grade II listed Midland Goods Shed, will be known as ‘Guardian Space’ and will host dozens of events each week following its’ opening in 2016. A national events schedule has already been launched with events featuring Russell Brand, Vivienne Westwood and Jimmy Page coming up in October (full list here). They also plan to sponsor hundreds of events across Britain each week through Guardian Live.
Currently most events are available (at ticket prices rarely more than £20) for those with free membership. As these events become booked up the benefits of a paid-for membership, with priority access to tickets, will become more appealing. At £15 a month minimum, though, it is not a cheap investment, and the top tier ‘Patron’ package comes in at a £540 a year. Interestingly, the membership doesn’t include access to existing paid-for Guardian content such as the iPad news app which remains £11.99 a month.
The Times have reaped the rewards of their Times+ membership scheme, with those who attend at least one event becoming far more loyal to the brand than those who do not. With the influence of subscriptions and events The Times’ now reach more consumers than they did before going behind the paywall and research shows their subscribers to be more committed, engaged, loyal and trusting than their 2010 pre-paywall audience.
Even Tony Gallagher, former Telegraph editor and frequent sparring partner of Rusbridger on twitter appears impressed.