After decades of disruption and painful digital transformation, the UK’s ‘quality’ daily news publishers – once called broadsheets – seem to have finally found a more stable footing.

The Guardian has achieved its best financial results in ‘many years’, including the first cash surplus ‘in a generation’. Revenues for 2021 at The Telegraph (£245 million) and The Times (£327 million) have fallen substantially over the past decade, but now both publishers have a similar financial profile to The Guardian (£256 million). All three are on course to be more financially stable over the coming years.

Spending less, but making less

The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian are all spending less money, and all except The Guardian – which started from a lower base – are making less money.

  • The Guardian’s costs have fallen from £320 million a decade ago to £245 million now. The Telegraph has reduced its operating costs by £60 million to just over £214 million, and The Times has cut theirs more than a third to £282 million.
  • Total wage bills have stayed relatively static across all three companies, with numbers not changing much since 2011.
  • The Times is the most profitable of the three, with pre-tax earnings of more than £52 million last year. The Telegraph has almost £30 million, while The Guardian claims a positive cash flow.

“This looks to be a reflection of an unfinished, but increasingly successful transition to digital reader revenue,” Jasper Jackson commented in Flashes & Flames. 

These modest successes should be considered within the context of a much tougher market in the UK:

  • This week, the UK’s largest newspaper publisher Reach Plc had 18% knocked off its share price following a decline in print revenue. It blamed record energy prices affecting the cost of print, and said it would need to increase print newspaper cover prices.
  • Popular ‘red top’ tabloids such as The Sun and Daily Mirror continue to struggle with advertising losses and lost copy sales. 

A focus on reader revenue

For all three publishers, switching to focus on reader revenue has made a big difference in financial security among an unstable advertising market.

  • The Times – the earliest publisher to switch to a paywall in 2011 – now has digital subscribers make up almost two thirds of its 586,000 total subscribers.
  • The Telegraph has 720,000 total subscribers, with digital subscription revenue more than tripling from £13 million in 2020 to £44 million in 2021.
  • More than a million people are now paying for The Guardian’s journalism, bringing in almost £70 million for the publisher.

Storm clouds: Print circulation and advertising will continue declining, as the cost of print soars. It’s likely an economic recession will affect both advertising and reader revenue.

  • The Telegraph in particular weighs heavily towards older print readers, although the digital growth will go some way towards lessening the blow.

Silver linings: These three daily news publishers “seem to have found the path towards a more stable, and profitable, future than seemed possible just a decade ago,” Jackson concluded.

The data and analysis in this story is used here with kind permission from the Flashes & Flames story: UK ‘quality’ dailies find their feet. Subscribe to read more detail about the history of The Telegraph, The Times and The Guardian, and what they may have to navigate in the near future. Flashes & Flames provides exclusive weekly analysis and insights for media executives and entrepreneurs. Learn more and subscribe at 

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