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How The Guardian drives print revenues through subscriptions

The Guardian has maintained its subscription growth in print while also growing its digital revenues and audience, which now has 81 million unique monthly visitors globally. The Guardian’s publishing director Mylene Sylvestre explains how they have achieved this. Aultrin Vijay reports

“We’ve managed to maintain our print subscriptions at a stable level despite a 12 per cent average annual structural decline of national newspapers in the UK,” Sylvestre told participants at WAN-IFRA’s Indian Printers Summit in Kochi. National newspapers in the UK sell around 3 million copies a day, and at the Guardian, print still represents 25 per cent of the total annual revenues. Digital reader revenues represent 33 per cent, she said.

In print, Guardian’s UK monthly print readership is 3.1 million. According to PAMCo, the Guardian is the most read quality news brand in the UK, cross-platform, with an average of 22.4 million unique visitors monthly. “Globally, we have 81 million unique visitors each month, and that includes 2.7 million in India, which is our fifth biggest market,” Sylvestre added.

To drive growth, the Guardian developed ambitious strategies in the past few years. Its editorial strategy focused on three main areas:

  • Invest time and money in investigative journalism.
  • Write extensively on the climate crisis.
  • Focus on our global reach. (Guardian launched its US and Australia editions around 15 years ago. Today, 60 per cent of its audience is located outside the UK)

Its digital strategy is aimed at serving the “right product to the right reader at the right time” whenever a reader visits the website. “We are therefore constantly refining our data strategy and also our reader online experience,” Sylvestre said.

In addition, they’ve made substantial investments in developing a range of newsletters and podcasts. Today, the Guardian produces content that can be repurposed into different formats, focusing on news, food, lifestyle, culture and sport. Partnerships and shared revenue models with platforms such as Google and Apple have also become a key pillar of their strategy.

Print subscriptions helping stabilise circulation numbers
For print, however, the focus is to grow the subscriber base by converting as many newsstand sales as possible to subscriptions, according to Sylvestre. “Subscriptions have enabled us to stabilise our circulation numbers in the past few years. It enabled us stabilise our revenue and reduce unsold waste,” she said.

In addition, the publisher is also investing in new products that seem to fill the market needs. In a nutshell, Guardian’s print strategy is to:

  • Drive print subscriptions
  • Expand home news delivery nationwide
  • Gather data about print readers to reduce waste
  • Explore new print opportunities

“Print is one of the most profitable areas of our business, and we manage to do so thanks to our loyal print readers, high selling price strategy, strong cost control culture, and innovation with new products,” Sylvestre said. Newspaper circulation in the UK has been declining 15 percent yearly during the past 15 years, she said. But The Guardian managed to mitigate the decline in part by moving from the unique Berliner format to a more commonly used tabloid format. This boosted their circulation and ensured longer financial stability for print. The publisher has been devising a confident price strategy with regular price increases. Additionally, the publisher has been promoting the use of its digital subscription cards, which identifies in real time when and where a subscriber collects their newspaper or pays the retailer. This could allow the publisher to offer benefits to its subscribers instantly. The digital card replaces the system of paper coupons, which the industry has relied upon for the past 30 years and still uses.

How the Guardian Weekly became successful
Apart from subscriptions and home news delivery, the Guardian Weekly forms the core part of the publisher’s print strategy. Guardian Weekly is a global news weekly magazine featuring opinion pieces and long reads. It is subscription driven, but also available at newsstands. It’s a 64-page gloss magazine containing content that has already been published it the website and newspapers.

In 2018, the publisher identified an opportunity when the news weeklies sector was outperforming the magazine market. After extensive research, Guardian decided to relaunch the Guardian Weekly, moving from a weekly newspaper format to a glossy weekly magazine. This proved to be successful and is now an area of growth for the publisher, both in the UK and abroad. The relaunch helped cut costs dramatically. Although the publisher had to close its own print sites, it joined forces with other newspapers, especially Reach PLC.

“It’s quite a cost-effective way of repurposing content. We really believe that repackaging existing content in a beautiful product is an interesting way to monetise your content,” Sylvestre said. The company is also exploring digital iterations of its print products. It has developed an app called The Edition, which is a replica of the newspaper.

After extensive research, Guardian decided to relaunch the Guardian Weekly as a glossy weekly magazine. This has proved to be successful and is now an
area of growth for the publisher, both in the UK and abroad.

81 million unique monthly visitors
The Guardian’s reader revenue model is unique. Readers who pay for its journalism are called supporters. “The bulk of our supporters are readers who donate what they can afford. And they donate The Guardian due to the emotional connect they have with the brands,” Sylvestre said.

In terms of numbers, Guardian currently has 1.2 million supporters. The publisher believes that comparing it with its overall reach of 81 millions unique monthly visitors globally, “we have huge potential to convert more readers into paid supporters.” Currently, 1.1 million readers either donate or subscribe to its digital products. And 104,000 readers subscribe to its newspapers and The Guardian weekly magazine. And this number is growing.

Sustainability: aiming for a massive decrease in emissions
In terms of sustainability efforts, The Guardian has set some ambitious goals for itself. “We aim to reduce our emissions by 67 per cent in 10 years,” Sylvestre said. Print is one of the biggest carbon emitting divisions at The Guardian, and it is where the publisher plans to make the largest impact.

“By committing to green energy, sustainable paper sources – either recycled paper or sustainable-resourced virgin fibre – by reducing waste and opting for green transport options, such as electric vehicles, we’re confident that we will hit our target,” Sylvestre noted.

 (By special arrangement with WAN-IFRA. The writer is a media analyst with WAN-IFRA.)

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