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The Guardian: reader revenue growth & proposition development

For our second event in London, The Audiencers' Festival on June 21st dived into the digital reader revenue models of from no fewer than 7 countries around the world, sharing their solutions to some of the challenges being faced across the industry.

Up first, 's Jim Scutt and Julia Hinds captured the audience's attention by revealing how the publisher famous for huge success in gaining reader support has developed their reader revenue strategy and proposition.

The Guardian report card: 
1990s = 8th biggest UK paper
2024 = 350m site visits, #7 global news site
Free & open model = no
£88m in digital reader revenues in 23/24
57% digital reader revenues = outside of UK
Guardian Support = voluntary  
(includes legacy products: membership, subscriptions and contributions)

Introducing a key acquisitions channel

Traditionally reserved for advertising, the end of an article is perhaps the most lucrative real estate, and a place that The Guardian has really made their own, making it deeply complementary to the journalism.

Today, the famous Guardian ‘Epic' is their primary acquisition channel.

Running over 1500 A/B test variants in the last few years, the team have made the most of their high traffic, and free, open model to experiment.

The Guardian experiments with their reader support messaging

Optimizing message copy

‘Supporter motivations' are a critical building block for driving acquisition and creating a two-way dialogue with readers and supporters. These are largely global, product agnostic, and stable over time.  

  1. independence  
  2. Protect the free press  
  3. Investigative journalism  
  4. Trustworthy, factual, high quality  
  5. Holds power to account  
  6. Open for all, no paywall  
  7. International perspective 
  8. Financial challenges in media  
  9. Better understand world events  
  10. It's only fair to pay

And translate these motivations into impactful copy:

The Guardian's impactful copy

Whilst small aspects of the copy takes time, it really isolates the learning and helps the team better understand where readers see value.

Leaning into news cycles, and speaking to events:

speaking to events

different ways to speak to the news:

testing different ways to speak to the news

Having fun along the way with some tongue and cheek:

tongue in cheek The Guardian

Being sure to carry wins across:

Carrying wins across to the newsletter, Apple news and Google AMP

And learning from failures:

Learning from failures

Optimizing everything else

The famous Guardian article count: a fitbit for news

And testing integrating the payment flow directly into the ask:

  • Optimize for recurring revenues via choice
  • Push people where you want them to go
  • Suggested price points anchor people in but give options for every price point

Whilst continuing to listen to readers: over half of one-time contributors said they were willing to be reminded to give again in the future, under certain conditions. 

The Guardian remind me later support model

Piecing it all together

It's of course note been a straight trajectory, and there's always room for development, but this work has paid off in building a world renowned support model.

The Guardian messaging

It's also been fundamental in allowing them to scale growth alongside their global reach, as well as reshape the existing choice architecture with 3 clearly defined levels of support:

£4 /month – Support

“Our most popular route to support – providing a low barrier to entry and creating a large base of paying readers. They get little in return (Supporter ) but offer a commercial opportunity to upsell.”

Supporter+ – Subscribe

Our hero product, which will be maintained at a fixed price point. This will be the best way for readers to support us, it gives Supporters full access to our suite of digital products.”

Supporter Premium – Subscribe

The premium experience of the Guardian, if Supporter+ gains full digital access, the premium experience offers the same but with as little friction as possible and with the option of bundling with print products.”

So, they shifted from a fundraising mindset to a more traditional ….but maintaining the option to give as and when a reader wishes to.

Shifting to a subscription mindset

Leaning into the feedback, they've clarified the choice and highlighted the value that you'll get back in exchange for this payment whilst still maintaining the ‘support' option. It's about balancing support language, getting people to the point of acquisition, but also getting the most value out of them with flexible options.

And establishing premium experiences as something to pay for.

The Guardian premium experience

Knowing that readers are highly engaged, The Guardian team recently developed the premium Feast app, a cooking companion, and the news app where they introduced the first paywall style format last year. App users can access 20 articles for free before being asked to subscribe.

Thank you so much to Jim and Julia for sharing their insights!