“Support open, independent journalism and experience the Guardian brought to life.” That was the Guardian’s plea six months ago when it launched its membership program, an experimental business model that would help support the independent news organization financially while providing a new way for readers to get involved.
As the Guardian explains it in its six-month report to the public, the idea was to allow readers the opportunity “to support and defend the Guardian’s ability to publish fearless, open, independent journalism without a paywall.” In addition to revenue generated from membership, the Guardian was eager to invite readers further into the conversation about today’s topics of interest – engaging them at events and online in new ways. In other words, the Guardian found a way to convert thousands of its free readers into paid members and supporters.
The membership program* has three tiers, one free and two paid:
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Friend (free) – Book tickets to Guardian Live events – Receive membership email updates – Watch video highlights of select events
Partner (£135/year or £15/month, or about $221/month U.S.) – all of the benefits of being a Friend, plus… – 20% off Guardian Live events (e.g., Nick Broomfield on capturing the story of a serial killer, Football Weekly Live, Grimm Tales with Philip Pullman, Guardian Gaming Night) – 20% off Guardian Masterclasses (e.g., how to create comics and graphic novels, champagne and sparkling wine tasting, how to write a novel, etc.) – Get early booking – Receive +1 guest benefits – bring a guest who also receives a discount & priority booking – Watch live streams of Guardian Live Membership events – Receive a membership card and annual gift
Patron (£540/year or £60/month) – all of the benefits of being a Partner, plus… – Priority booking – Special thank-yous – Unique experiences – get behind the scenes of the Guardian’s journalism
*Members who sign up by March 31 will be Founding members, meaning their membership rates will never increase.
1Assuming 1 British Pound Sterling equals $1.47 U.S.
How did the beta test go? The Guardian says that, in the first six months, tens of thousands of its readers from around the world have become paid members, with 90% of those members reporting that their primary motivation for joining was to support the openness of the Guardian. The Guardian also says that nearly 20,000 members have attended its 70+ Guardian Live events, including a climate change rally, Oscar-winning film previews and a showing of public support after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris last fall.
Though 94% of Guardian members have rated their experiences as “good,” the Guardian has taken their suggestions and promised more perks – including more live-streaming events, live events outside of London, and partnerships with other organizations to bring more diversity to its members.
The Guardian has been working dutifully for the last several years on listening to its readers and trying to not only meet their needs, but to exceed their expectations. Last fall, for example, we reported that the Guardian completed a revamp to its website to improve the user experience and subscriber retention with less cluttered, better organized content and by optimizing the site for mobile use.
The membership program was another smart move, especially since the Guardian does not have an owner or major corporation backing it. To remain independent and competitive and churn out quality journalism, the Guardian needs to earn enough consistent revenue. This will help to support its work while also retaining today’s fickle consumer.
We’d love to see the revenue and membership totals if they’re ever disclosed, but based on what we’ve heard, the program seems successful so far. The Guardian seems to be attracting readers and members at appropriate price points with clearly defined features and benefits.
The membership conversion page is attractively designed and well organized, making it easy to see up front what the membership levels are and how much they cost. Lower on the page, prospects can see more detail. We particularly like the founding member option. With a tight deadline and a promise of a lifetime rate, this is a smart way to convert members into long-term supporters. Great marketing tactic.