What you need to know:
- Over the years, The Guardian built a robust reader-funded plan with over 1.5 million supporters across 180 countries.
- The 200-year-old newspaper sought financial assistance from readers by asking them to part with as little as $1.
Six years ago, as many news organisations put up paywalls, asking audiences to pay for news, The Guardian Media Group, which owns The Guardian newspaper, took a different route.
The 200-year-old newspaper sought financial assistance from readers by asking them to part with as little as $1, with the option of monthly and one-time support.
Over the years, The Guardian built a robust reader-funded plan with over 1.5 million supporters across 180 countries.
This business model has allowed them to provide high-quality journalism for free, especially online.
Six years later, this unconventional business model seems to be paying off, after the newspaper group recently announced its strongest financial results since 2008.
Annual revenues increased by 13 per cent to £225.8 million and the company posted a cash surplus of £6.7million.
The online reader revenue has surpassed print reader revenue.
The Guardian Media Group’s business model is unique in the sense that it is not owned by shareholders or a ‘benevolent’ billionaire.
Instead, it is under the proprietorship of the Scott Trust, which runs an investment fund that is currently worth more than £1.3 billion.
The trust injects into the newspaper up to £30 million a year.
Without the pressures of maximising shareholder value and the vested interests of billionaires, the newspaper is able to invest in innovation and deliver high-quality online journalism to everyone at no cost.
In an era where high-quality news is mainly behind paywalls while the lower-quality news and information are available for free, we must have conversations about access to news and information, particularly to East African audiences who are unable – or even unwilling – to pay for news.
News media organisations operate under immense pressure from shareholders and owners, which often compromises the quality of news.
The pressure to deliver quarterly financial results has led to painful decisions such as layoffs and a reluctance to invest in costly and high-risk innovative projects.
However, to deliver outstanding journalism – at no cost – to audiences, we must think beyond paywalls and the conventional advertising business model that is currently undermined by digital platforms.
Can we have the African version of The Guardian newspaper?
A truly independent newspaper, free from shareholder and owners’ pressure, that will deliver great journalism for free?
What would it take for some of our independent newspapers to shift gears and focus solely on journalism, rather than revenue?
The former publisher of The Guardian, C.P Scott, after whom the trust is named, wrote in 1921 during the newspaper’s centenary celebration: “A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But it is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community…”
Could this be the time for African newspapers to “The Guardian way”? Food for thought.
The writer is the director, Innovation Centre, at Aga Khan University; [email protected]