Mark Colvin of Australia’s PM radio programme has an interview up today with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. It focuses on the recent publication of figures from behind the Times and Sunday Times paywalls and finds Rusbridger as determined as ever to keep his paper free and champion open online journalism.
Comparing the Times’ new ‘slimmed-down’ online audience – which Rusbridger estimates to be about 30,000-50,000 users a month, against 37 million for the Guardian – he says the two newspapers’ digital operations now represent “two completely different ideas of size, scale and ambition”.
Perhaps the most interesting thing the Guardian editor has to say concerns the effect of the paywall on print sales, which he was expecting to rise when free digital access disappeared. The Times print circulation hasn’t plummeted since, but it certainly hasn’t shown significant gains: circulation fell by 14.81 per cent year-on-year in September, second only to the Telegraph and higher than the 12.3 per cent average for quality titles. August saw the Times’ average daily circulation slip below 500,000 for the first time since 1994.
As Rusbridger points out, the digital arm of the newspaper, rather than acting as a plain substitute which draws readers away from the print edition when free and drives them to it when paid, may serve to promote the whole brand. It may well act “like a sort of marketing device for the newspapers”, he says.
If you put a gigantic wall around your content and disappear from the general chatter and conversation about your content then people forget to buy the paper as well. So it’s a kind of double whammy.
Rusbridger continues to be one of the industry’s most vocal objectors to the paywall. As he says here, he believes that “the journalist organisations that are best placed to survive are the ones that are going to go with the technology rather than decrying it and fighting it”. To that end, his “overwhelming aim is just to keep on producing the Guardian in a form which will suit whatever technology people invent”.
Colvin asks Rusbridger about the Guardian’s increasing digital revenue – “we’re up well over 50 per cent year-on-year and last year we earned about £40 million”, Rusbridger claims – but not, disappointingly, about the paper’s tactics in any detail, its success at bringing in money in through affiliate projects for example. Tim Brooks, managing director of Guardian News and Media, landed a blow for the Guardian’s approach earlier in the week, putting the Times’ new paywall revenue in a particularly unflattering context: “We’re probably making more money from our online dating service”, he told the MediaPro conference.
No mention of the Guardian’s own losses from Colvin or Rusbridger though. Despite the paper’s continued growth of digital revenue and laudable approach to online journalism, they are still running pretty high.