Guardian's new membership scheme 'ahead of target' - but no hard figures yet, says head of direct Anne Gowan

The Guardian’s newly-announced three-tier membership scheme is “ahead of target” for subscriptions, according to Guardian News and Media head of direct Anne Gowan, but the publisher is yet to reveal any hard figures.

Speaking to The Drum at Zuora’s Subscribed Europe 2014 event, Gowan said that 10 per cent of sign-ups so far had taken up the highest-tier ‘patron’ subscription at a rate of £60 per month, and said the title had already begun receiving international sign ups despite focusing its soft launch on the UK.

However, Gowan declined to commit to any hard figures, although she said the title is now ready for its commercial launch.

“We’ve only had a soft launch so far but we’re ahead of target,” she said. “Ten per cent of people who’ve joined are patrons already. I don’t want to commit to numbers yet, but we are now ready to forward with a commercial launch.”

The Guardian announced its membership scheme earlier this month, and a significant investment from the publisher will see the creation of an events centre, Guardian Space, at London’s King’s Cross, which is due to open in 2016.

Members can sign up to the Guardian on a free ‘friends’ basis, a £15 per month ‘partners’ commitment or for £60 per month they can become ‘patrons’. As well as a revenue stream, the Guardian hopes the scheme will increase the data the publisher has access to and increase audience engagement.

“We started thinking about it and researching a couple of years ago,” Gowan went on. “A lot came out of Observer Festival ideas. We were asking our audience where they saw the Guardian going and what they liked about it. We also had a lot of events and discussions with journalists and commercial people.

“What came out of that was a recognition that people want to support the Guardian, they want to be part of it. A lot of people wanted to make a contribution because they felt they were aligned with the editorial perspective of the Guardian.”

Gowan added that the scheme would allow the publisher to expand its international reach through gaining better knowledge of its global audience.

“We want to be more engaged and more knowledgeable about our audience and our market, and we are moving into a very different space,” she said.

“This will be an opportunity for people to engage internationally. We’re more of an international brand that we’ve ever been; we want to expand that with global reach. Having a website being free opens up our content to more people. We’ve focused the membership launch on the UK but if people want to join from outside the UK they can, and have already.

“There is a special link with our audience there’s a special affinity people feel with our brand. Our research tells us this is our best route to engage with that audience.”

Along with the Guardian’s plan to increase its database will be a more open conversation with its audience about what happens with that data, according to Gowan, and more detail for readers on what they get in return for agreeing to exchange data.

“We’re launching an audience charter about data – there’s an element about trust,” she said. “We’ll be open and we won’t share their data if they don’t wish us to. When there is a lack of understanding and lack of clarity it often causes caution and suspicion. We’ll be looking at how we communicate with our audience on data.”

Following the launch of the scheme, industry experts offered their verdicts to The Drum.

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