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A simple graph shows why the Guardian’s future does look bleak

April 7, 2011 15 Comments

Dear the Guardian: Please let me give you more money. Sun commentator Kelvin MacKenzie predicts that the Guardian will cease publication within 10 years, claiming "circulation fell on Monday to an all-time low of 200,000".

One problem is the Guardian's successful digital services. I've bought the Guardian every day since  the start of 1995. Last year I got an iPad and an iPhone. Although I paid £3.99 for the Guardian iPhone app, I now no longer buy the weekday paper. Ever. This graph shows how much money I have given the Guardian Monday to Friday for the last 16 years.

Annual payments for Guardian news

I've gone from paying £230 a year for weekday news to £4

The collapse in what I pay is because I read most of the news for the next day's newspaper on the Guardian website on my iPad the evening before. And I read anything new on my iPhone on the way to and from work. The newspaper has nothing in that I need.

As ever, there are a few caveats with this sort of data.

Weekday only

I've excluded the weekend papers which I still do buy (though only about half as often as I used to). Partly because I got bored trying to find the cover prices, and partly, I admit, because the graph wouldn't look so dramatic ...

Cover price history

The cover prices for the Guardian are hard to find but I think they are as follows (the dates are when it went up to the new price and it was 45p in 1995): 2001 50p, October 2002 55p, Autumn 2004 60p, January 2006 70p, September 2007 80p, Jan 2009 90p, Sept 2009 - £1.

The Guardian's share

The Guardian doesn't get all the cover price. The publisher noted back in 2007 that retailers receive 25% of the cover price of each weekday Guardian. It's worse than that when it comes to apps of course - it has to pay 30% to Apple.

Advertising revenue

The Guardian does of course get advertising revenue. According to one Guardian editor in 2004: "The basic cost of producing the Guardian every day is (of course) more than the cover price. No matter how many readers bought it, we would lose money, in fact an increasing amount of money, without ad revenue - unless we put the cover price up to what it really costs us to make the paper, which is somewhere north of £5 a copy."

Part of the reason I don't buy the paper is because I look at the website. I doubt that the Guardian can charge online advertisers a marginal price for each extra viewer that's higher than that it charges for each extra print reader. So I presume my switch from print to digital has cost it advertising revenue as well.

But even if they earned the same, it still doesn't make up for the loss in direct revenue that the graph shows as the website's free to access.

Please do something ...

I used to get the Guardian free as part of my first job as a researcher and a student. I've actually been reading it since about 1988.

So I hope it manages to do something about the graph. Given I used to spend £230 a year for my weekday news, I'd happily pay more than £4 a year for its iPhone app. That price point might be the first thing to examine.

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