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By Dom Gilchrist
Few would dispute that the newspaper industry is in a state of flux. As circulation continues to fall and consumption of media rapidly changes, those who wish to survive must adapt and react.
Andrew Miller has been CEO of Guardian Media Group since July 2010 and is at the head of the Guardian newspaper’s transition into the new media age. He has few misgivings about the challenges the industry faces and understands that whatever route the Guardian take, resisting change is not an option claiming straightforwardly, “you can’t alter the way consumers are consuming your media.”
Miller has already illustrated this attitude at Auto Trader where he spent the six years prior to joining GMG playing a pivotal role in its digitalisation. “Auto Trader saw [the changing nature of consumption] and invested everything behind where consumers were going”. “This is the core learning to take away at the Guardian: try and embrace where consumers are consuming the media.”
Miller has wasted little time in applying this attitude, adopting a digital-first strategy in June 2011 which aims to nearly double online revenue to £100million by 2016. “It’s really trying to change the focus of the organisation from being primarily newspaper to being digitally focused.“Traditionally we’ve been very much news-paper focused but our audience is much much bigger in the online universe. And if we don’t organise ourselves and get advertisers thinking about that then we won’t have a very strong future.”
The paper has already made great strides in this direction, not only taking to social media in a comprehensive manner but doing so in a way that feels at ease with the platforms and makes integration between the different medium seem natural and routine. For example, with the recent snow showers across Britain, the Guardian immediately set up a Flickr group for readers’ photographs. It is their head-first plunge into digital which has allowed them to both become a very naturally digital news source.
Facebook is the Guardian’s most prominent Internet presence outside its website and drives its daily page impressions up by almost one million. “Facebook is where the majority of 18 to 30 year olds are consuming their media”. Speaking to the Guardian in November 2011 he said, “as well as increasing traffic, the app is making our journalism visible to new audiences. Over half of the app’s users are 24 and under – traditionally a very hard-to-reach demographic for news organisations.”
The Guardian’s latitudinal movements from its website should not detract from the progress of its online hub. The site attracted 63 million visitors in November, bested only by the Daily Mail’s 80 million. Comparing this to their relative share of newspaper circulation (279,308 to the Mail’s 2.1 million) illustrates the achievements of the Guardian online and the extent to which it is asserting itself in digital space.
Popularity, however, should not be confused with profitability and Miller describes the question of how to keep this lucrative as, possibly quite literally, “the million dollar question for any news organisation in the new world”. For the moment, the Guardian uses its other assets as an alternative source of revenue. “We have a portfolio of non-news assets as well as a core of our Guardian assets which really are to subsidise and support…losses at the paper. The paper loses about £40m a year and that’s not dissimilar to many newspapers in the UK.”
Andrew was recently in Oxford discussing the Communications Bill as part of the Guardian Media Convention. He believes that while recent debate which has focused on the phone hacking scandal is “obviously very important”, it is most important to “find a framework that allows content companies like ourselves to really thrive and develop in this environment without being overregulated”. He cites three basic principles as essential to the future of Britain’s media: “good access, some regulation around areas of privacy and, which I think is very very important, is plurality”.
Miller doesn’t shy away from the complexity of the problem, saying that “it’s really too simplistic to say there’ll be one solution or another”. Remembering that “the main thing about 18 months ago was paywalls or not paywalls but I think its moved on now”. A successful paper will need to have a broad portfolio. Miller maintains that this is something which requires tailoring each platform depending on the “particular audience”.
It is this breadth and understanding of the various audiences which is quite so impressive in his strategy and suggests that the bold digital first approach may prove the Guardian’s saving grace and secure promise for the paper’s digital future.