Interview: Guardian Aims To Double Digital Revenue In Five Years, CEO Says

The worsening state of the printed news and advertising market has prompted The Guardian to downsize in print and become “digital-first” earlier than previously expected, Guardian Media Group CEO Andrew Miller tells paidContent.

“We now have a financial imperative we didn’t have before,” said Miller, who was upped from finance chief a year ago. “The financial pressure all newspapers are facing through the shift is such that our losses are increasing and I can’t see a way of those not decreasing without first making ourselves digital-first.”

Miller rejects the idea this is about digital-first now and digital-only next. “All newspapers will ultimately exit print,” Miller acknowledged. “But we’re putting no timeframe on that. This is about repositioning the business to be digital-first. I don’t know if anyone’s said that before at a major newspaper. It’s about finding the right format for newspapers in our portfolio.”

As a response both to changing reader habits and the business model underpinning print, The Guardian will cut back on newspaper pages and run less news reporting in them by next March.

Only four percent of our readers read the paper for breaking news stories in the morning – they read in print in the evening rather than earlier in the day,” Miller said. ‘We’ll do a reformatted daily newspaper in this financial year, with more analysis, longer pieces.”

Miller reckons “it’s quite a bold decision” and “it’s probably accelerated” the eventual print-to-digital transition.

Last year, Guardian News & Media made about £37.5 ($60.35) million of its £221 ($355.69) million revenue from online – a discrepancy that can’t be made up in the blink of an eye. “We have targets to double our digital revenue in five years,” Miller told paidContent. “That in itself will make sure we’re on that road.”

How will get there? Sceptical that readers will pay for web content, its biggest current project is to grow its U.S. audience from New York to significantly grow advertiser scale – something Miller hopes will mean can charge higher ad prices. GNM acquired paidContent’s publisher ContentNext in NYC in 2008.

But that is not the sole idea. “In a digital environment, the trick is to generate lots of business,” Miller said. “America will be a core part of that, but so will (dating service) Soulmates… our digital revenue on recruitment now is greater than from print, we want to build on that.” The corollary is a move in to U.S. classified ads, as well as the display market.

GMG is announcing the general new direction this week, but details fewer and Miller won’t be drawn on specifics like the anticipated savings from print cost cuts nor impact on print-related jobs. He and editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger will now “start a dialogue” with staff. “I want to work with the people in the business to see through this change,” he told paidContent. “Inevitably, it will involve some fresh blood coming in at various levels.”

Of the print readers The Guardian will retain, Miller wants more of them to be subscribers. Currently, they comprise about 17 percent of The Guardian circulation, versus about 50 percent of The Telegraph’s.

The Guardian has the relative luxury of being owned by a trust and supported by two adjacent B2B publishing businesses, which GMG will, at some point, sell for a windfall. “There’s a financial envelope – as long as we hold within that envelop, it will work within the (Scott) Trust,” Miller said. “We’re working to get to a position of sustainability.”

Will any further acquisitions or disposals take place along the way? “There are no plans at the moment,” Miller said.