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How The Guardian is colonising the Australian media landscape

The Guardian’s Australian operation isn’t commercially sustainable yet. But with revenues 300% up on expectations, it’s well on the way to it, its managing director tells Crikey.

The Guardian’s Australian operation isn’t commercially sustainable   — not yet. But with revenues apparently 300% up on expectations, it’s well on the way to it, managing director Ian McClelland tells Crikey.

It’s McClelland’s job to make sure Guardian Australia can sustain itself once the original investment by Wotif founder and philanthropist Graeme Wood runs out. And at least so far, it’s going well. Last week the local outpost of the increasingly international masthead announced it was setting up a Melbourne bureau, nine months after hanging a shingle in Sydney. This announcement comes far ahead of schedule — the team originally expected to expand to Melbourne in years, not months.

There are no other bureaus currently on the cards, but The Guardian is dreaming big. Edit0r-in-chief Kath Viner has built an Australia-wide network of journalists and contributors, and from a commercial perspective, it certainly helps to have people on the ground, McClelland says. “We want to cover Australia, commercially and editorially,” he said.

Guardian Australia’s entry was smoothed by Wood’s investment, said to be commercial as opposed to philanthropic. Viner has previously said the investment would last five years, after which Guardian Australia would have to support itself. McClelland won’t reveal any more. Asked if any more money came The Guardian’s way after Wood ceased supporting The Global Mail, he says the two projects are entirely unrelated.

But he says Guardian Australia is far from solely reliant on Wood’s investment now. Unlike most of its Australian rivals, Guardian Australia, like its UK parent, does not have a paywall. It relies instead on three main revenue streams: traditional display advertising, brand partnerships and consumer revenues. The ad business existed before the Australian editorial team was launched; it’s been turbo-charged since. The ad market’s been flat (at best) for several years, but McClelland says his team has had no problem selling here.

I’ve worked across the US and Europe, and been in Australia for a couple of years. I think the ad market is really robust here. I know in terms of total volume it’s been fairly flat during the global financial crisis, but I think there’s a real enthusiasm for The Guardian,” he said.

Brand partnerships — resulting in what’s commonly called branded content or content marketing — are another pillar. For example, a partnership with insurer NRMA has used The Guardian’s data-journalism team to explore Australia through numbers. And consumer revenues — selling stuff directly to readers — are another focus.

The Guardian in general is a pretty diversified business,” McClelland said. “It does masterclasses, conferences, live events, a villa and cottage rental business, a large dating agency, as well as various e-commerce businesses.” The Australian edition has already hosted a few masterclasses and plans to do more. McClelland says he’ll introduce aspects of the UK business here “where we see an opportunity”.

Guardian Australia is not currently paying its own way. But the economies of scale available to it through its affiliation with its British parent are huge. MeClelland said: “We’re lucky to have the backing of a global media organisation that has a wealth of assets and a portfolio of other businesses. And we’re very fortunate to have the backing of The Guardian Media Group, and the Scott Trust.

We’ve got an amazing brand built over 200 years, and great technology products being delivered by an amazing 250-strong team of designers and developers in the UK. And, of course, we get all the global journalism and content being produced by hundreds if not thousands of journalists all around the world. We may be a start-up, but we get all those assets for free. So I’m extremely optimistic.”

As well as building up the business, the focus for the next few months is culture. McClelland says there’s been great commercial interest in the arts and culture content The Guardian’s journalists are producing. And there’s “a big commercial project” around culture launching soon.

Ultimately though, we’re following editorial,” he said. “Where their focus is, we’ll go.”

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  • 1
    Thomas King
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    whoops had an ad blocker installed for the Guardian. Just changed the settings. I would be more than happy to pay a similar amount as I currently do for the Crikey for the Guardian/au - take my money dammit.

  • 2
    mikeb
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    The Graudian has become my online “paper” of choice - perhaps because it is a bit left of centre (like me). Having no paywall isn’t a factor as it’s laughingly easy to bypass existing paywalls anyway. I just like the slightly Brit styling and good opinion writers. Plus the online comments are vastly superior to Aust equivalent. I don’t know why as I suspect most contributors are Aussies but they just seem to have more wit and good humour along with the customary outrage.

  • 3
    lostcause
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    It is so refreshing to have a left leading antidote to the Murdoch press with its slithering endorsement of all things conservative. Plus the access to overseas news. A great and unexpected addition to the Australian landscape.

  • 4
    Interrobanging On
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to give The Global Mail money…

    And I am happy to help out The Guardian with clicks at least for now. It has been a valuable addition - the hysterical reaction to the Snowden revelations shows it is getting up some noses in a journalistically strong way.

    PS Don’t worry, Ed. I still like much of Crikey too.

  • 5
    AR
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Like others, i would have paid for the Global initially but they never sought nor even allowed it.
    Crikey ain’t cheap and has too much filler & drivel but it does something quintessentially Oz so I’ll stick with. For the near future but am looking forward top Saturday in march

  • 6
    Ted Parker
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    I reckon The Guardian is bang in the centre, just intelligent you know? Most everything else has moved so far to the right. Unfortunately the ABC, in an attempt to acheive “balance” has a faux right wing look to it in its news and current affairs sections.

  • 7
    CML
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian Oz is fabulous! It is balanced, has very good opinion articles and lots of informative local and overseas reporting of the news.
    Like those above, I would be happy to pay for reading it, but think they are on a winner because all content is free. And you get to have YOUR say! Even some of the advertisements are helpful (travel, etc).
    I wish them every success, and hope they keep doing exactly what they are doing for many years to come.
    dog knows, we were going nuts trying to find out what was really happening at home and overseas with only Ltd News propaganda to rely on!!

  • 8
    Buddy
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    I pay for a couple of news providers and would pay for the guardian as well…. Much needed voice in the Murdoch landscape .. And hired some seriously good journos..

  • 9
    Liamj
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Guardian is nice, good compared to cowed ABC and tabloid Fairfax, great compared to the cliched advertorials of News Corp(se). The comment threads on Guardian are sometimes superb, but its very thin on local content. Keep up the real journalism Crikey and you’ll have nothing to fear.

  • 10
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Monday, 24 February 2014 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good time for them to come in, seeing that smh/age have largely left the quality journalism space.

    I haven’t gone there yet, but it seems inevitable. The statements here that they have good opinion writers will be like a breath of fresh air. I suspect one hand would pretty much cover the good opinion writers currently served up in Oz.

  • 11
    sabina lokic
    Posted Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    The guardian is already the go to site for in depth australian news and discussion.
    Meanwhile the deep cuts at the age have resulted in often poorly written or checked articles with little insight. Sacking the higher paid experienced journos was about as sensible as vodaphone slashing its help desk to save money. Too many gossip columns that pass as news.

    The guardian could still improve though. Too many articles are cut n pasted from the uk with pounds not dollars quoted and too many place / person references that few australians will know.

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