Guardian Tries Two App Strategies: Android Free, iPhone Paid

The Guardian finally introduced on Wednesday an edition for the most used mobile platform, in an indication publishers may finally be catching up with Android.

But, whilst its new Android app is similar to its existing iPhone edition in many functional respects, there is one critical difference…

Though the latter remains accessible only via six- or 12-month paid subscription in the UK, the Android app is being launched for free with advertising subsidy.

That means The Guardian believes it can charge high-end British iPhone users but not mass-market Android owners (or overseas iPhone users, who are also not subject to the fees). It constitutes another supposition, by a big-league content proprietor, that the Android segment is not one ripe for charging through.

“We feel that having a free, ad-funded Android app is the right business model for this marketplace and platform at this point in time,” a Guardian News & Media spokesperson tells paidContent. “We have no plans to change our iPhone pricing model as it stands, though we are always reviewing and watching the market very closely.”

The Guardian allows developers to re-publish its content for free through its API (though the process of monetising that content has barely begun), and several Android apps already offer Guardian articles for free.

The split mobile business model is more than just a bifurcated app strategy. In promotion, The Guardian also promotes its free mobile website harder than its subscription iPhone mobile app. This summer, the mobile website comprised a tenth of’s total traffic.

This all bucks the received wisdom of many, that mobile apps can charge for content because, unlike the desktop web, mobiles have little prior culture free consumption.

The message is clear – if you want free Guardian, use the desktop or mobile website or Android; if you want to pay what is the equivalent of four daily print copies for an entire year’s mobile app access, use the iPhone app.

In a fit of ad targeting, the new app’s sponsorship across the board is for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, an Android tablet. Samsung is going ahead and selling the 10.1 device in the UK from today after a European injunction against it was temporarily suspended.

  • After revising its iPhone app on a subscription model in January, by June, 67,258 people had subscribed to the app (in the UK, 72 percent of them for one year at £3.99, 28 percent for six months at £2.99). That suggests it made £193,218 from annual subs and £56,308 from six-month subs in the first half of the year, for a total £249,526 before Apple’s commission.
  • The milestone coincided with the first of the six-month subscribers being required to renew. But The Guardian won’t disclose how many people have done so.
  • It also coincided with Apple’s new policy of requiring subscription payments go through iTunes Store with 30 percent commission. “Our iPhone subscriptions have always run through iTunes, so there is no change in terms of the 30 percent issue,” a spokesperson says.
  • The iPhone app has been downloaded 52,915 times in the States, where it is free because The Guardian wants to build an audience there.

Disclosure: Our publisher ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.