Guardian membership breaks the revenue-stream mould

by: Lucinda Southern on 10 November 2014

The media group's membership scheme offers alternative revenue model for publishers

With circulation rates and advertising revenues falling, finding the right subscription model has forced publishers to look to more creative means of monetising the audience.

Ahead of the hard launch in January of the Guardian’s membership scheme, Anne Gowan, Head of Direct at the media group, talks to 12ahead about its progress.

“It’s definitely a challenge and an opportunity,” she says, "there are more eyes on the Guardian to find the right way to monetise its audience.”  

Choosing to keep the site free the publication is offering a three-tiered membership scheme; a free sign up where members get early event booking options, a £15 a month 'partner' tier and a £60 a month 'patron' level. The backend payments and software side of things is being managed by Zuora and Salesforce.

With this business model the emphasis has moved from readers who buy a singular product, to a community that participates with one another and supports the brand.

This culminates in the new headquartered space opened in Kings Cross, which will act as a type of social club, according to Gowan. Master classes and live streamed events are also part of the package, as well as backstage access to journalists and breaking news.

“The program has been in gestation for 18 months prior to the soft launch,” says Gowan, explaining that through feedback from readers and comments from the Observer festival helped shape it, while the founding members will continue to mould how the program grows.

At this stage Gowan is unable to cite how many people had signed up since the soft launch in the UK, but it was ahead of target, with a surprising amount of interest from abroad.

With a closer audience relationship and more of an understanding of their interests, the media group will also gain valuable insight into their preferences and can layer on more sophisticated personalisation techniques.

This alternative model hoping to offer functionality online and offline champions open journalism and reader participation, but empowering its audiences is just as risky as it is visionary. “We have confidence that the brand is going in the right directions – it’s the right model for us,” says Gowan.  “Each media business looks very different from each other now,” Gowan notes, “it’s all about the engagement of audiences – each experience will be more tailored under a brand ethos.”