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Guardian turns a profit for the first time in 20 years, aided by record online traffic

“The Guardian has been consistently loss-making,” read the Wikipedia entry on the publication, till yesterday.

It was quickly edited after the British daily announced that The Guardian and the Observer have broken even—for the first time in 20 years—aided by record online traffic, reduced costs and increased financial contributions from readers.

Guardian News & Media recorded an £800,000 operating profit for the 2018-19 financial year – compared with a £57m loss three years previously,” the company said, “ensuring the business is existing on a sustainable basis following the culmination of a turnaround programme put in place following years of substantial losses.”

This is a remarkable feat in an extremely challenging market, especially since The Guardian’s model is unique among news publishers. It keeps its journalism outside a paywall, while asking readers to contribute to help subsidize its reporting. This differentiates it from most of the competition, who either demand payment for access, or choose to go for scale and digital advertising money.

A message requesting support, on the Guardian website

Our unique ownership model means we are not controlled by a billionaire owner, or a group of shareholders demanding financial returns — any profits made, and all financial contributions from readers, are reinvested directly into our journalism,” said Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of The Guardian.

She said that listening carefully to readers’ input over the past three years “has helped inform the creation of a business model in which our editorial independence remains paramount, and which keeps Guardian and Observer journalism open and accessible to everyone regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.”

Three years ago we faced a very different situation, when a broken business model for news was threatening to destroy media organisations around the world: print advertising was collapsing, newspaper sales were declining, and the promise of digital advertising growth was going almost entirely to Google and Facebook. These threats still exist, and while we’ve found a way to counter them, the situation remains fragile.

Katharine Viner, the Guardian News & Media editor-in-chief

Total monthly page views increased over the last three years from 790m in January 2016 to 1.35bn in March 2019, and it now has 655,000 regular monthly supporters across both print and digital, with a further 300,000 people making one-off contributions in the last year alone. Total revenues at Guardian News & Media grew 3% to £223m a year, with 55% of the company’s income coming from digital activities.

“In times of extraordinary political and economic upheaval the need for quality, independent reporting and commentary has never been greater,” said Katharine Viner.

“Guardian journalism is flourishing,” she concluded, “We are now in a sustainable position, and better able to deliver on our purpose by producing outstanding journalism that understands and illuminates our times.”

Download WNIP’s comprehensive new report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

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