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The Guardian Social Media News

Guardian Membership, industry reaction: Is this the dawn of a new revenue model for publishers?

By James Doleman |

September 12, 2014 | 4 min read

The big media news of the week was the launch of the Guardian's membership scheme – an ambitious attempt to engage the media group's readers through a series of live events.

The centrepiece of the programme will be a 30,000 square foot events centre in London's King's Cross expected to open in 2016. The space, which is believed to have been leased for 10 years, will not be cheap. Sources have told The Drum that, given the location, the cost could be around £50 per square foot per year.

The Drum asked media commentators what they thought of the initiative and how succesful it might be.

Mark Jones, associate director, Amplifi @ Carat

The Guardian’s membership scheme is to be applauded both as a novel attempt to increase revenue from its loyal readership base, but also as a scheme to increase its events offering through Guardian Live.

£60 per month for the top membership tier appears to be an expensive proposition, but has surely been carefully chosen as an extremely similar price point to buying the Guardian and Observer at full price across a year (£57.20 per month). As such this will help to directly offset lost cover price revenue from declining print sales but the success, or otherwise, of this proposition will lie in the volume of lower tier ‘partners’ paying £15 per month.

The Guardian has been extremely successful to date in gaining digital scale through their open journalism approach and so will only need to convert only a modest proportion of readers for this to generate reasonable returns."

David Mill, managing director, MediaCo

An all-singing, all-dancing global community of friends, partners and patrons… you’ve got to stand up and applaud the ambitions of Guardian News and Media with its new 'Guardian Membership' scheme.

And, as far as alternatives to paywalls and other newspaper revenue-generation models go, it is certainly imaginative.

There is no question it embraces the 'community' element of digital, something which has been a struggle for newspaper groups more used to pushing information at readers. And the thinking behind the live events makes sense – aimed at developing a relationship with real “readers” away from their downloads and keyboards.

Of course, while the group has conducted its research and calculated the financial viability, the scheme is still a significant experiment.

A large number of loyal readers and many curious others will, no doubt, sign up to be free Friends. As for the fee-paying participants, only time will tell how the numbers stack up against other newspaper subscriber schemes.

But the Guardian News and Media Group has no proprietor concerned about the pennies and pounds and its newspapers are primarily focused on the relationship with readers.

So, will it be Encore Encore for Guardian Membership, with significantly increasing demand from the people and world domination? I doubt it. But it’s still worth a song and dance for the moment.

Warren Johnson, founder, W

With media buying agencies exerting a downward pressure on the value of advertising and reluctance among consumers to meet increasing cover prices, the Guardian Membership scheme represents a sorely needed paradigm shift in the funding of newspapers.

It remains to be seen whether it represents a viable route to profitability – but it looks like a clever move and certainly a creative way to ensure publishers are able to operate sustainably.

There’s also a separate debate to be had about terms such as ‘revenue’ and ‘profits’ which, while indicative of the current reality, poorly reflect the public service performed by the existence of a free, vibrant and diverse press.

We talk about how the BBC or museums are funded – rather than their ability to generate revenues. It might be that Guardian Membership acts as a gateway to the acceptance of an annual levy – or a redistribution of the TV licence fee – to ensure that newspapers continue to play their valuable role in our communities.

The former Guardian editor CP Scott wrote that a newspaper is more than a business, but an institution that reflects and influences a community. The term ‘membership’ makes sense in this context – as does the necessity and, presumably, the willingness to protect valuable public institutions.

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