The Guardian’s owner the Scott Trust has a remit to protect the journalism of the 195 year-old title in perpetuity. At the current rate of financial loss (even with the £200m it may yet earn from the sale of its stake in business publisher Ascential) it has little more than a decade left.
Perhaps it should look to two other great British liberal journalistic institutions for inspiration.
The Economist and Financial Times are of a similar vintage to The Guardian and have achieved exactly what it is trying to do (whilst also making bundles of cash).
They have record combined print/digital circulations and editorial independence. They’ve achieved this by focusing on quality, embracing digital journalism, going global (and crucially) valuing what they do enough to charge for it online. The Guardian has three out of the four ingredients for success.
Both the FT and Economist started with metered paywalls which they have made progressively more restrictive, to the extent that readers can now access just a few articles a month before they are told to pay up.
They are special cases in the sense they have a more narrow focus than The Guardian. But The Times has shown that high quality general-interest newspapers can also make paywalls pay.
Why wouldn’t a similar number pay for The Guardian which is, afterall, a much more sophisticated website?
The catastrophic turnaround in The Guardian’s finances over the last year show that it will only be safe once it has found a way to shift its dependence away from advertising, both in print and online.