The Guardian’s Revolution: New Business Model, New Audience and New Peak Times

by Michel Rubini, Media Relations Specialist, Business Wire/London
Michel Rubini

Michel Rubini, Media Relations Specialist, Business Wire/London

Asked which newspaper is not shy about embracing change, most people in UK would have no doubts in replying, The Guardian. Constantly at the forefront in terms of design, technology, and trends, guardian.co.uk is the second most popular online news site in UK, which is a substantial achievement considering it can hardly be called mainstream.

Against a backdrop of increasing online readership and decreasing print sales, how is The Guardian making its money these days? This question was answered by Stephen Folwell, a business director of The Guardian Group, during a News Rewired conference held on the 13th of July in London. Stephen summarized the old model as “We produced stuff, you consumed stuff, we guessed you liked it, we measured that through circulation, we gave it to you at a price you were willing to pay, and advertisers came along who wanted to be associated with that audience”.

Stephen Folwell, Business Director, Multimedia and Brand Extensions for The Guardian

According to Folwell, this model does not work anymore. When your audience is mostly online, you either create a pay-wall or change the business model. So what does the new business model of The Guardian look like? To put it simply, The Guardian wants to be at the heart of communities, becoming an enabler of editorial and commercial conversations for those communities, allowing people within to share data, to share stories, to discover stories and disseminate them; and then allow commercial partners to access these conversations (when relevant) for a fee.

Folwell explained that this new model works well for The Guardian because “it delivers an audience that we are getting increasingly clear about which we call progressives.” The Guardian defines progressives as forward looking individuals who are curious about the world and embrace change and technology —  in other words, digitally savvy and socially conscious. They are much more likely than the average adult to blog or have social network profiles. Stephen points out that “advertising agencies in particular find this very interesting, because it means that if you can get a message aboard among that community, it will spread.”

Another interesting aspect is that The Guardian is now spreading among an age group that was previously thought to be of difficult access. Folwell explained that the average reader’s age for each platform differs. See below:

Not only is the audience getting younger, but it is also more involved in the output.

Another major change described by Folwell is the fact that news is now accessed at times of the day that were in the past considered prohibitive. Where a TV peaks in the evening, newspapers usually peak in the morning. But by working on multiple platforms, The Guardian now has new peak times: around lunch time for online and apps, mid-afternoon for Facebook, and late evening again for iPad and online. Multiple peak times delivers increasing demand from advertisers which in turn delivers increased revenues.

A clear consequence for PR professionals is that windows of opportunity for offering press releases to journalists do not need to be condensed in the morning slot but can now easily be scattered around the day according to the kind of audience the message is willing to reach.

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