The Guardian hits paid content milestone, the ComCom puts its foot in it


Chris Keall

The Guardian's office

Many NBR readers won’t like its politics but UK paper The Guardian has another paywall milestone – a commercial achievement everyone should applaud.

The publication now has more than 400,000 people making regular payments for its online content.

That breaks down to 300,000 paying at least £5 a month under its monthly donation scheme (voluntary but also the only way to get rid of incessant reminders potted through the text if you don’t cough up) and 100,000 paying for its app, which is $19.99 a month for international subs.

The paper also has 100,000 paying for its print edition.

And another 300,000 who have made a one-off donation to its online edition.

Good for business
The rise in revenue from readers means while The Guardian’s publisher (backed by a multi-billion pound endowment) is still losing money, it’s a how lot less than before, and it’s now on a path to breakeven.

The Guardian group now makes more money from online subs than it does from advertising.
True, that’s partly a measure of the decline of advertising, but there’s no escaping that paywalls are good for business.

The New York Times (or “failing New York Times” as a certain president describes it) made an operating profit of $US27.7 million in the second quarter of this year, up from $US9.1 million in the year-ago quarter, as it made a net gain of 93,000 digital-only subscribers (for a total 2.33 million).

Here at NBR, we’ve recently passed our own milestone of 5000 paid individual member subscribers, plus hundreds of organisations on IP (office-wide) subs.

Alex Clark founded Press Patron, a local service that enables Guardian-style regular donations from readers.

Good for journalism
More, paywalls are good for journalism. They incentivise hard-hitting, investigative stories, and punish dross. People won’t renew their subscriptions if you serve them churnalism.

We’re seeing the best and best-resourced journalism from publications with paywalls from the New York Times to the Washington Post to the Financial Times and, closer to home, The Australian and the AFR.

ComCom wrong wrong
So it was disappointing to see a lawyer for the Commerce Commission citing the risk of a paywall being introduced as one of the reasons that regulator rejected the Fairfax-NZME merger (the comments came on the sixth day of the duo’s appeal).

There are a number of reasons for the ComCom to reject the Fairfax-NZME appeal. Paywalls are not one.

If they are ever allowed to merge, Fairfax and NZME won’t harm the public (in so much as it would cause harm) with blanked paywalls. They simply couldn’t, with mainstream news available through RNZ, Newshub and other sources. A paywall around selected content would incentivise more unique, deep-dive content and reduce the need for Daily Mail filler.

Poor show, ComCom.

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3 Comments & Questions

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Absolutely on the money Chris.

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"There are a number of reasons for the ComCom to reject the Fairfax-NZME appeal. Paywalls are not one."

Agree 100 percent. The Commerce Commission has no business dictating business models in an unregulated industry. All this does is tell us the people concerned don't understand 2017 media issues.

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Chris, what if any impact can or will the new government have on ComCom’s merger attitude?
And has ComCom studied the relatively painless merger the Queensland media regulator approved for the merger of News Corp and ARM?

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