Guardian sticks toe in online revenue stream

The UK's most popular newspaper Web site is looking to charge readers for some services, including the chance to avoid those pesky pop-ups
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Another UK newspaper is hoping to persuade its readers that they should pay to read Web and email-based content.

The Guardian announced on Tuesday that it will soon launch a subscription version of its popular Guardian Unlimited Web site, www.guardian.co.uk. Costing £20, the offer will let users view a version of the site that will be free of adverts.

It is also hoping to persuade readers of two of its daily emails to pay a £12.50-per-year subscription fee. One is a morning round-up of that day's British newspapers, the other an afternoon digest of the day's news and a preview of tomorrow's edition of the paper.

These emails, and Guardian Unlimited, are currently available for free. A free registration scheme for the site will also be introduced, but the company insists there are no plans to lose the option of free access.

"We are absolutely committed to keeping the majority of GU free from both charge and registration, but the realities of Web publishing mean that we also have to seek opportunities to maximise our revenues," explained Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited, in a statement.

Digital versions of the Guardian and Sunday paper The Observer -- which are both owned by the Scott Trust -- are also on the way. According to the paper, these will "offer domestic and overseas readers an exact online replica of the daily paper that can be browsed page by page".

The digital Guardian will cost £98.57 per year or £10 per month, and the digital Observer will cost £29 per year or £5 per month. A subscription to both will cost £127 per year, or £12.50 per month.

Finally, the Guardian also plans to charge £25 per year for users of its online crossword.

Most of these changes will take effect on or before 30 July, although according to reports a date has not yet been set for the launch of the digital newspapers. Anyone signing up to pay for the two emails before then will be charged £10 each, or £15 for both, for the first year.

Guardian Unlimited is the most popular of the various newspaper Web sites in the UK. According to its own figures it attracted almost 7.3 million unique users in May 2003.

It is also somewhat notorious for pop-up adverts that can detract from the experience of reading the site, so paying £20 per year for an ad-free version could be popular.

Last year, the Financial Times decided to charge between £75 and £200 per year for some of the editorial content available at www.ft.com.

And back in April, The Independent began charging for some of its content -- a move already taken by The Times.

All these newspapers have invested heavily in their online operations, and given the advertising slump it appears inevitable that they will look to their readers to help them balance the books.

Some analysts believe, though, that Web content providers who attempt to levy fees could come unstuck, given the large amount of free content available online. The sites also must contend with software that specialises in blocking advertising content or -- like the controversial Gator application -- covering up the site's ads with those of a third party.

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