Guardian Flips iPhone App To Subscription Model, Except In U.S.

We had expected The Guardian to move its popular iPhone app, which has a one-off £2.39 ($3.99) download price, to a recurring payment.

Now the paper says it is introducing a new app, due in December, with two subscription pricepoints – £2.99 for six months’ access, and £3.99 per year.

But subscription will be the model in every country except the U.S., which will be ad-supported.

The current app, built with 2ergo, has clocked 205,000 downloads since its December 2009 launch. That’s £489,950 in a year on UK pricing, or £342,965 after Apple’s commission.

But the app was likely reaching the ceiling, with no prospect of recurring income. Now, some publishers are growing keener on striking ongoing relationships and transaction points with readers. Mail Online last week introduced a subscription iPhone app priced at £4.99 for six months and £8.99 for a year…

This will be a test of whether brand loyalty translates in to repeat purchases – and, indeed, of whether apps are one-off impulse purchases or can become a sustainable long-term proposition. Publishers are clearly less keen on charging readers monthly.

But the decision not to charge outside the UK means a Transatlantic split in The Guardian’s mobile commercial model. Why? Apparently, because the app hadn’t proved as popular as expected in America, editor Janine Gibson tells “The US is a newer market for us and obviously we haven’t sold as many apps there as in the UK. We think we can do better and are interested in looking at an ad-funded, free app in the US and using the model to increase reach.”

So, one probably wouldn’t rule out charging in the U.S. in future. Using ads as the model there is interesting since U.S. ad sales for had apparently struggled since the site started trying a couple of years ago.

The publisher is also rebooting its site, which claims 500,000 daily page impressions. Ads displayed there are for’s own dating service.

Despite the clear affection of The Guardian’s editorial leadership for a free, “mutualised” web model instead of web fees, the publisher has not shied away from its interest in charging on other platforms. The publisher confirmed to paidContent:UK it expects to make £40 million from digital this financial year.

Disclosure: Our publisher ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.