Eyeballs and honesty boxes

30th June 2016

The beneficiaries of Brexit: to lip-licking lawyers and trade negotiators we can now add newspapers, at least in the short term. Last week's tumultuous events saw records smashed at The Guardian, with 77 million page views of its website on Friday alone, according to its Editor-in-Chief, Katherine Viner. Meanwhile, Digiday reports that the Financial Times' Brexit poll tracker was its most popular article ever, drawing 4m page views.

Not surprising, perhaps. But the articles draw attention to two wildly different approaches to the monetization of all those eyeballs.

Digiday provides a fascinating account of how the FT deployed all the tools of modern marketing to drive a 600% increase in subscriptions over the weekend: Real-time analytics; programmatic display ads; paid search; A-B testing; social media seeding. It’s all there, and it seems to be working. The FT is profitable and in April its digital revenues exceeded print revenues for the first time.

The Guardian was no doubt able to parlay that extra traffic into increased ad revenue, but the article from its Editor-in-Chief , Katharine Viner, in which the figures are reported is nevertheless a plea to readers to make donations and help bridge the gap in its business model, which has seen it lose a reported £340m in the last 11 years. That averages out at more than £80,000 a day.

The Guardian is rightly revered for championing the cause of liberal journalism, which at times makes the free content model appear more rooted in philosophy than in commercial strategy. It went early (and large) on a digital-first approach, but the question remains whether a business model that depends in part on an honesty box is really sustainable.