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Becoming The Guardian

Becoming The Guardian
"It's a textbook turnaround"

Why the Guardian?

The persistence and individuality of the publisher are inspiring. It’s not easy to sustain and grow your presence across the globe while battling against the downward sloping revenue graph. In fact, The Guardian’s survival was in question a few years back as the publisher was burning cash consecutively and on the verge of going bankrupt. But now, it’s in the path of breaking even by 2019.

Leaving aside the printing business (as we’re no way gonna go back), let’s talk about how The Guardian has grown its ad revenue over the years.

Discretion: We will mention the data for The Guardian Media Group GMG (the parent company), The Guardian News & Media Limited GNM, the subsidiary which owns two newspapers (The Guardian and The Observer) aside from the news website, theguardian.com. We have to extrapolate occasionally to complete the article. It is understood that the digital investment has also contributed to total digital revenue generated by the Group. 

How it all Started?


Back in the day, the online newspaper industry was nascent. But ‘Guardian Unlimited’, a news website of the Guardian, has reportedly attracted millions of visitors each month along with other titles (MSNBC and CNN Interactive). To be specific, Guardian Unlimited had around 80,000 digital readers each day, which is roughly a quarter of its print circulation.

The page impressions were over 14 million/year and noticeably, revenue has grown by 500 percent year-on-year. The total digital advertising revenue was already around a few million dollars, thanks to the investment on digital newspaper ‘Guardian Unlimited’ and stake on Fish4Sites.

The Guardian 1999 Ad Revenue

In case you’re wondering how the publisher managed to garner millions of readers every month when the Internet itself was in its infancy, it’s because of the credibility and investment. 

a. Credibility:

The Guardian Newspapers had a massive readership in the UK and the company has been building authenticity for over a century. When it came to the hand-held devices and PC, readers didn’t hesitate much to give it a try.

b. Early-Adopter:

The Guardian Unlimited dived into the digital media to capitalize on the market. It didn’t turn back to invest on the Internet.

Where they are today?

The Guardian Media Group’s digital ad revenue totaled £141.89 million last year, which is higher than the print advertising. Two-thirds of the total digital audience is not from the UK. The US accounts for 20 to 25 percent of the total traffic. The number implies the growth of the publisher across the globe, not just in the UK.

Traffic Stats

The Global Monthly Impressions of theguardian.com is 528,293,401 (528.3 M). And, the Global Monthly Unique Browsers are over 84M.  The daily unique browsers across the globe are over 4M (Src).

The Guardian - 2018 Ad Revenue Stats

How’s the Hockey Stick Graph?

As you could see, the publisher has grown its ad revenue by more than 100x and traffic by more than 35x in the last decade. However, if you put the data (total advertising revenue/turnover) over the years on a chart, you won’t get a clear hockey stick.

That’s the best part. The Guardian had its own battle to cut down losses and increase revenue. The ascent of other online newspapers tightened the belt for The Guardian.

So, how did they manage to head back into the black? And, what strategies did they implement to grow advertising revenue?

For eloquence, we’ve compartmented the story into four sections.

Becoming The Guardian

I. The Crucial Early Days (Till 2005)

The year was 2003 and The Guardian newspaper, the 2nd smallest national daily broadsheet with just a little over 3 lakh readers is already making waves on the Internet. The paper’s online edition, Guardian Unlimited is the most successful site in the UK at the time, with the influx of 7.5 million visitors a month and 2 Million+ visits from the US. (Src)

Back in the day, online newspapers were baffled about the potential of advertising on the Internet. That being said, you could count the number of online newspapers putting up paywalls every day.

But, the Guardian wasn’t a fan of paywalls, even back then. So, what happened next is a bit interesting.  

Value-Add Model

Times Online led the charge, by charging the readers. It started to collect an annual fee of $67 for overseas users in 2002 and it turned profitable the next year.

Financial Times, one of the earliest online newspapers has also started to put up a paywall during the same period and they’ve also attained profitability soon. Of course, both had their own tiered pricing models and a free-content section to keep the advertising revenue afloat. 

Unlike others, Guardian Unlimited pursued the value-add model. The publisher didn’t charge for the majority of its content and even, archives (the obvious opportunity to ask for the money).

“It’s very, very smart move”

But, it came up with a new set of services, starting from news updates via mobile to the digital edition of the Guardian newspaper. The publisher charged just 35 cents for mobile updates and $165 a year for newspaper digital edition (Src).

Besides, it allowed subscribing for everyday email roundups and crossword. It’s free for the commons and if you’re a dedicated Guardianista, you can pay for the value-adds.

“The whole point about online news, given Reuters, Press Association (better known as PA), Bloomberg, CNN — even Google’s news service — is that everything is knowable. The point is — when do you know it? So charging for emails that offer timely news is a good way to monetize your content. You make that a premium service, but those who won’t pay for e-mail are driven to the site, so you create traffic to boost your advertising as well.”

– Mike Butcher, mbites.com

Understanding the Game

The move was idiosyncratic, but it did deliver the results. On an interview with ‘Online Journalism Review’, then Editor in Chief, Emily Bell revealed how the publisher is thinking on decades, not just on years.

Automatad Team

At Automatad, we help publishers to monetize better without hampering the user experience. Our products are live across hundreds of publishers, earning them incremental ad revenue with every passing second. You can request a free audit to get an estimated revenue uplift today.

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