Why the Guardian believes readers will pay £15 a month to become members

The Guardian today (10 September) launched its first paid-for membership scheme, designed to make readers more loyal to the brand and to open up a new revenue stream for the business.

Guardian Membership

Guardian Membership comes in three tiers: Friends, where readers can sign up for free; Partners who will pay £15 per month; and Patrons, who will pay £60 per month (more details on the tiers can be found here).

The different levels of Membership open up access to tickets for live events, festivals and debates – some at a discount – and entry to Guardian Space, a new 30,000 square foot venue in London set to open in 2016. The space will act as a hub for events, activities and courses from partners such as Birkbeck University and Central Saint Martins college.

It is hoped the launch of the scheme will build on last year’s “stellar” growth, which saw the Guardian Media Group report a 6.8 per cent increase in revenue to £210.2m in the 12 months to 30 March 2014. 

We asked Guardian News and Media’s deputy CEO David Pemsel why he believes the initiative will be a success for the newspaper publisher.

Marketing Week: Asking for £15 per month for the cheapest membership tier seems like a very big financial commitment on top of what readers already pay for the newspaper. How does The Guardian justify the price?

David Pemsel: We think we are in a unique position in launching this scheme – we have enormous global reach, award-winning content and an incredibly respected and trusted brand – and we know that our readers are actively looking for ways to support our journalism. Our extensive research has shown that people are willing to pay to extend their experience of what we do through live events and that they want to feel part of the wider Guardian community. We’re confident that we have got tiers right and that our readers will want to join us.

MW: Have you looked to other membership schemes from international publishers or loyalty initiatives created by other industries to influence how Guardian Membership was built?

DP: We’ve looked at lots of different schemes and programmes but we don’t think there’s anyone else trying to do what we’re aiming to create with Membership. In terms of who’s inspired us, we’ve been looked at the way TEDx has disrupted the events business, how Channel 4 has used data to understand its users, and how the music business has met the challenges of the digital economy through a greater focus on live experiences.

MW: Given that the scheme is mostly geared around live events, is there a danger it could be a little London-centric?

DP: Our vision is that Guardian Membership eventually becomes a global community and we hope that readers from across the UK and elsewhere choose to join.

Guardian Live events are planned in Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh from launch, and we hope to confirm events in other UK locations, as well as in New York and Sydney in the coming weeks. Standalone consumer propositions will be launched in the US and Australia in 2015 in line with the Guardian’s digital editions and readership in both markets.

Over time, our membership community will become self-organising with members able to organise their own events or connect to conversations wherever they are based.

MW: Membership opens up a new revenue stream, but will it ever be a significant one? What targets have you set for the first year?

DP: We’re currently in a beta phase where we will work with our members to develop the scheme so we will be evolving and evaluating our progress as we go.

Membership is a significant investment for us, both in terms of the 30,000 foot space we are currently redeveloping in Kings Cross and the new technology and systems we have put in place to enable us to manage our relationship with members both now and in the future. In order to justify that level of investment, we’re confident that the expected revenues will be very significant and will help to support Guardian journalism for many years to come.


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