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March 1, 2016updated 23 Aug 2022 7:19pm

Guardian editor Katharine Viner says plan is to ‘get readers paying for it’, but rules out online paywall

By Dominic Ponsford

Guardian editor Katharine Viner has said she wants to persuade more readers to become paying "members" but insisted there are no plans for an online paywall.

Press Gazette understands that a revised Guardian membership offer could include some elements of premium content, but that a decision has yet to be made.

Viner was speaking at the British Library in London this morning at a conference run by Newsworks (formerly the Newspaper Marketing Agency).

Viner said: “The Guardian had 158m browsers in November, two thirds outside the UK…

“What we are looking at is how you can get those readers to become more loyal and how we can turn loyal readers into members.

“People say to me all the time 'how can I give you money, I feel guilty that I read you so much, I watch your videos all day long, but I don't pay you any money – how can I give you money?

“We want to help them out with that desire and turn them into members and come up with a membership proposition that is really appealing to them.”

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She added: “We are not going to be introducing a paywall, it is about a deeper relationship.

“The most loyal readers really feel like they own the Guardian and those  who work there are just passing through. What I want to do is really help cement our relationship with those readers, take them really seriously, bring them in and get them paying for it.”

The Guardian revealed at the end of January that the value of its investments have declined by more than £100m over the last year and that it is on course to report a statutory loss of more than £50m for the year to the end of this month.

Viner and chief executive David Pemsel have promised to put forward a plan which will put The Guardian into a break-even position by cutting £54m a year from its operating costs.

Pemsel revealed last month that he plans to change the membership proposition. He said: “That may mean producing some journalism which only our members can access but no, it’s not a paywall."

Currently paid-for Guardian membership offers readers discounts on attending events and it is promoted as a way of helping to support independent journalism.

Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who is set to become chair of Guardian Media Group’s owner the Scott Trust later this year, has also spoken about changing the economic model of the paper.

He told the Media Briefing, in comments reported today: "When I left on May 31st we were one month into a new financial year and everything looked fine. We were going to make £100million out of digital compared with £80m, and it all looked completely sustainable.

"The last Scott Trust meeting I was at they were saying everything's changed in the last six months and it's all going to Facebook and we now wonder whether scale is the thing, wondering about an advertising-funded model." 

Viner, who has been editor since the end of May, told today’s conference that her time as editor has been “Absolutely fantastic. I'm embarrassed about how much I'm enjoying it. It's quite unseemly.” Although she added that her working day starts when she wakes up and finishes when she goes to sleep.

Editorial achievements so far listed by her included:

 

  • Raising £2.6m for refugees
  • A 16-day live blog on the Paris attacks
  • Launching new offices in Manchester and San Francisco and also increasing the paper’s presence in Brussels and Berlin
  • The Counted, a crowd-sourced bid to count the number of Americans killed by law enforcement officers which has been praised by the FBI and the Department of Justice
  • LaunchingMinute app, providing a daily visual digest of the US election campaign for mobile devices

Asked about The Guardian’s commercial plans, she said it is a “joined up commercial and editorial strategy."

She said: “It's really lucky for us because it is very rare in the history of the Guardian for a new editor in chief to start at the same time as new chief executive.

“Been able to develop a strategy absolutely together. It's about a deeper relationship with readers and a deeper relationship with advertisers.”

Talking about the current challenges the news industry faces, she said: “Journalistically it is an absolutely brilliant time. You can tells stories in lots of interesting and new ways. It's thrilling but at the same time the commercial model is undermined at all points. Fewer peope are buying newspapers, advertisers are leaving print, digital advertising is going to Facebook and Google – quite dramatically so in the last year – instead of news organisations." 

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