The Guardian's digital watershed: Doing nothing was not an option



Many of Guardian News and Media’s 630-odd journalists were already sceptical about a company policy that has seen it invest vast resources online at the expense of the print edition.

Such resentments came bubbling to the surface a couple of years ago when the company considered closing down The Observer, to help stem its losses.

So editor Alan Rusbridger must have drawn a deep breath before he went into a series of briefings with staff today to tell them that process is going to accelerate.

Digital may at present only contribute £35-40m out of total turnover of £221m for GNM, going on last year’s figures. But it is seen as the future, and unlike print it is growing, so that is where resources will be focused.

The daily rush towards the tea-time print edition deadline is set to become a thing of the past at King’s Place as the various digital incarnations of Guardian journalism become the main priority for staff.

Where this leaves the poor neglected print edition reader (whose £1 a day subsidises to some extent the online free loaders) remains to be seen.

Some may be tempted to see this development as the beginning of the end for print journalism in the national press.

I don’t think it is, but it does feel like the beginning of the end of the print Guardian, which has signalled today that its future is predominately a digital one.

Others will have to find their own solution, because my hunch is that there will be no one-size-fits-all approach in the post-digital world.

For the Evening Standard a free print model has seen it reach the brink of break-even (showing that print is as popular as ever when readers aren’t paying for it).

The Independent is trying its luck with a sort of free/budget/premium model and The Times, as we know, is currently wedded to a more exclusive paywall approach.

The one certainty about the journalism business today is that changing nothing is not an option.

You don’t need to be a maths genius to work out that print sales dropping at 10 per cent-plus year on year mean The Guardian does not have a print newspaper business in ten year’s time at the current rate of decline.

Today’ s announcement sounds like a call to arms for staff to start thinking fast about what the alternatives are.

Update: Having consulted Press Gazette’s resident maths expert, I’ve realised the statement above about the rate of decline was a little glib. If The Guardian was to continue losing print sales at the current rate (12.5 per cent) it will be left with  69,000 sales a day in 2021.

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