The Guardian Considering Putting Some Content Behind Paid Membership

girl with a laptop sitting on newspapers

The Guardian is considering putting some content behind a paid membership scheme for its UK and global sites that includes Australia.

Emma Mackenzie
Posted by Emma Mackenzie

The international publication already has a membership scheme in place – which is internally termed membership 1.0. It was first launched in September 2014 in the UK and is still in ‘beta’ mode as the publisher tests out various functions. Membership 1.0 gives members access to various Guardian associated events and masterclasses. So far it hasn’t been actively marketed in Australia and most of the membership benefits have been in the UK.

However, there’s a revised membership scheme in discussions at the moment which gives readers additional and bespoke content from journalists, explained Margy Vary, head of marketing at The Guardian Australia. 

The revised scheme will be an add-on to membership 1.0 and will feature content only available to people who are members of The Guardian. It won’t include mainstream news and current affairs. While there hasn’t been a final decision made yet on the new scheme The Guardian appointed Natalie Hanman to the role of executive editor for membership in late January this year. Hanman had previously been the editor of the publication’s section Comment is Free.

The Guardian has been outspoken in its intent to not put its content behind a paywall as many competitors have. Vary said this conversation has softened somewhat in recent times, however was still adamant they would never ask readers to pay for news and current affairs.

“We still don’t believe in paywalls being the main business model,” she explained to B&T, “and we would never put main news behind a paywall. There would never be anything that prevented anybody who wanted and needed to know what was going on from finding out for free.

“But we believe there are certain elements of content that we can have for a financial and membership model…that will add value to your experience.”

While believing paywalls are flawed business models for general news sites, Vary does say it works for niche and highly targeted publications like The Financial Times, as people are coming there for a very specific reason.

“We’ve got to find the sweet spot in between where we don’t want to offend anybody but at the same time add value.”

The membership scheme comes at a time when publishers need to find more revenue streams due to dwindling display ad revenue.

With the advent of ad blockers, Vary said they needed to find other ways to fund the publication and having the support from others helps.

There’s a number of membership tiers in the scheme, depending on what kind of access you want and how much you’re willing to pay. B&T understands there’s more than 155 thousand members globally.

Kath Viner, editor of The Guardian, said it’s about having a deeper relationship with the member, and a way for the loyal readers to give back to the publisher.

“We are not going to be introducing a paywall, it is about a deeper relationship,” she said at an event in London, according to the Press Gazette.

“The most loyal readers really feel like they own The Guardian and those who work there are just passing through. What I want to do is really help cement our relationship with those readers, take them really seriously, bring them in and get them paying for it.”

An official statement from The Guardian said: “We are constantly exploring ways to better engage with our audiences and to bring our ground-breaking open journalism to life for our readers.

“We have already been on an incredibly successful journey from print to digital, and are now considering new revenue streams, including a greater focus on live experiences and a new membership scheme to bring our readers closer to our journalism and our brand.

“This isn’t about introducing a paywall. We are exploring new ways to monetise our audience, one of which is a potential new membership scheme to allow our readers to engage more closely with our journalism and our brand.

“The Guardian’s open approach to journalism and its readers means that we are constantly looking at new ways to engage our audiences and enable them to get involved with our content.”

The interview with Vary was conducted during the thumping beats of WOMAD, a cultural music festival in Adelaide. B&T travelled to WOMAD as a guest of The Guardian’s.