Guardian says digital - not print - now its priority

Guardian News and Media bosses today told journalists that digital is now their main priority – ahead of the print edition.

The historic shift will see The Guardian become a ‘digital-first’organisation, staff were told today, meaning that investment and effort is to be focused on digital rather than print.

Digital currently contributes around £35m to £40m a year out of Guardian News and Media’s £221m turnover (2009/2010 figures).

Press Gazette understands that GNM wants to double that contribution in the next five years. Last year GNM made an operating loss of £37.8m.

Print currently contributes the majority of GNM’s income, but sales have been declining sharply: last month circulation of The Guardian dropped 12.5 per cent year on year to 262,937 whereas The Observer was down 13.9 per cent to 293,053.

Today’s announcement underlines the fact that GNM sees that decline as inexorable – whereas digital revenue and readership is growing. In April, Guardian.co.uk attracted 2.4m unique users a day according to ABC, up 31 per cent year on year.

In briefings to staff today, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said GNM would ‘move beyond the newspaper, shifting focus, effort and investment towards digital, because that is our future”.

While print is said to remain ‘critical’to GNM, the new strategy will see more investment in digital intiatives, such as the new US operation and mobile.

Today’s announcement underlines The Guardian’s commitment to an ‘open’journalism model, which sees the newspaper networked and linked with the rest of the web. And it means that its journalism will remain free to read online.

It means the print edition will include less ‘news’ and more analysis.

Rusbridger said: ‘Every newspaper is on a journey into some kind of digital future. That doesn’t mean getting out of print, but it does require a greater focus of attention, imagination and resource on the various forms that digital future is likely to take.

‘The Guardian has consistently led the way on digital innovation and is currently showing year on year growth of 40 per cent [in audience]. We are expanding into America and continuing to pioneer what we call open journalism – editorial content which is collaborative, linked into and networked with the rest of the web.

‘We will also be changing the printed Monday to Friday newspaper to take account of changing patterns of readership and advertising. Half our readers now read the paper in the evening: they get their breaking news from our website or on mobile…

‘By becoming a digital-first organisation we’re taking the next natural step, one which we believe all newspapers will eventually have to take.’

GMG chief executive Andrew Miller said GNM planned to move to a ‘direct model’– meaning more emphasis on subscribers when it comes to the print edition.

He said that resources would be moved from print and reinvested in digital growth areas, and that there would also be investment in new brand marketing.

Miller said: ‘The opportunities presented by the growth of digital media are immense. The Guardian’s journalism has never been more widely read. However, the same forces driving opportunity in digital are creating challenges for newspaper publishers across the developed world, including GNM.

‘Circulation and advertising revenues in print continue to fall throughout the sector as readers and advertisers embrace new technologies and digital platforms, and this is not a trend that’s about to go into reverse.

‘We are going to become a digital-first organisation, and are at the beginning of a process of transformation to achieve that. The quality of our journalism, our long-term outlook, the assets in GMG’s portfolio, our unique ownership structure, our progressive approach to digital media and our fantastic people mean we can do this from a position of strength.

‘Innovation of this kind is in the best traditions of the Scott Trust and will help us to fulfil our mission of securing the independence of the Guardian in perpetuity.”

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