Guardian’s global CEO labels Fairfax and News metered paywall model ‘worst in the world’

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller, CEO of Guardian Media Group

The global CEO of The Guardian Andrew Miller has labeled the strategy of the metered paywall model adopted locally by News Corp and Fairfax Media as “the worst in the world”.

Miller made the comments in an exclusive interview with Mumbrella’s sister title Encore during his visit to Australia as the local arm of The Guardian’s operation approaches its six month anniversary.

He questioned the concept of metered paywalls – giving free content to occasional visitors but asking regular visitors to pay – saying: “That to me is the worst paywall in the world – the more loyal you are the more you are forced to pay. I just don’t get that logic.”

Yet Miller refuses to rule out a paywall model for The Guardian, adding: “Never say never but at this stage there is too much to play for in reach and it is about who is going to get that readership. Once you have that, you can think about monetising the readers more directly but I think that’s still some time off.”

His signal that The Guardian may contemplate a paywall in the future was echoed last night by the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, who is also in Australia. Interviewed on stage at Sydney Opera House by Annabel Crabb, Rusbridger followed a similar line on the possibility of The Guardian one day charging for content, but was less critical than Miller on the model adopted by the big players locally saying: “We are not fundamentally about being free. It works for us at the moment. But it doesn’t mean we write it off forever, or that Fairfax is wrong or that the Murdochs are wrong.”

“It’s not true to say there’s no money in digital.”

The Guardian’s Australian operation now has more than 30 staff.

Miller said: “I want to be seen as a company riding the second wave of digital extremely well. That means I have to be competing with the like of HuffPo, Buzzfeed, Vice and people like that,” he said.

“A 20-year-old is consuming their news in a very different way to the traditional newspaper reader and that’s why we have to keep working in a non paywall format because all these guys’ business models are based on that.”

Miller said the new Australian operation, run by launch editor Katharine Viner had “exceeded expectations” and was now the third largest market behind the UK and US. He said: “We are beating the audience numbers we expected. We are much further ahead on the revenue. Traffic has moved by around 25 to 30 per cent since we launched.”

Rusbridger added to that last night, saying in his interview: “We’ve made four times as much money as we thought we were going to, so I think it will be profitable.”

Meanwhile, Miller said that the Australian launch would be a springboard for a push into Asia. He said: “One of the reasons I’m here is to explore how we build out. “There just seems to be an obvious opportunity to build our journalism out but how we do it is a question. Chasing countries is the wrong approach. Chasing themes and building off our geographic footprint in Australia, then into maybe Southeast Asia, is something of interest.” 

Asked to expand on his remark Miller emphasised that any planning was still in its “early stages” but was clear that expansion is on the cards.

“Building out from Australia into the region is definitely of interest,” he said. Miller also spoke about The Guardian’s recent global expansion and spoke for the first time about the role of philanthropist Graeme Wood in helping fund its new Australian expansion.

“We chose New York first and we now have 50 people there, 12 are commercial and the rest editorial,” said Miller.

“Then in Australia, we got the opportunity to accelerate what we were going to do because of Graeme Wood’s investment.”

Miller was clear the philanthropist was not involved in editorial adding: “This is an investment for Graeme Wood, he has given the money completely at arms length and he does not get involved in the running of this at all. The editorial aspect has always been completely independent.”

Globally, The Guardian has seen losses of £30.9m, but operations are subsidised by the substantial Scott Trust. Asked if the satellite ventures like the New York and Australian offices would ever be profitable Miller said: “Absolutely. We wouldn’t be doing this purely for the journalism. There has to be a plan that is profitable and Graeme sees this as an investment just like we do.”

Rusbridger added: “He wants his money back. Whether he gets his money back is subject to the carefully crafted wording in the contract.”

Miller also committed to the future of the print edition of international newspaper The Guardian Weekly, saying that as long as it too remained profitable it would continue.

“Last week we worked out The Guardian was consumed on 5,561 variants of products,” he said.

“One of those is the The Guardian Weekly, and if it is profitable and positively contributing to the cost base then we will keep it. If it’s not, or it doesn’t fit the overall direction we want to move, then we wouldn’t.

“Right now, The Guardian Weekly is a profitable product with a good audience – a very different audience from other digital products – and therefore one we would keep going.”

Nic Christensen

Encore Issue 38This article first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.



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