A compelling future for digital business media

fttablet

In May, the Financial Times went on record to say with some confidence that they expect to see more paying subscribers to the paper’s digital edition by the end of 2012 than to its traditional printed newspaper.

In a post on the FT’s Press Office Blog on July 27, the paper says that digital subscriptions have surpassed print circulation globally, five months ahead of its own time prediction.

The FT’s results for the first half of 2012 show that more people than ever are paying for FT content, with digital subscriptions exceeding daily print circulation for the first time.

The bold text is my emphasis. The announcement – part of the latest financial results news from Pearson, the FT’s owner – shares some interesting metrics on circulation and growth:

[...] The FT’s digital readership continues to grow strongly, with FT.com subscriptions up 31% year on year to over 300,000 and registered users increasing 29% to 4.8 million. Our global paid-for circulation increased to almost 600,000 year on year, and corporate licenses grew 40% to nearly 2,300. Our average daily global audience grew to close to 2.1 million, with the number of people who read the FT on more than one channel rising 27%. We have achieved this growth while maintaining a robust print circulation business with growing revenues.

And it’s not only at the FT as Pearson’s announcement makes clear on page 15:

At The Economist Group, in which Pearson owns a 50% stake, The Economist’s worldwide
print and digital circulation increased by 5% to 1.62 million (at 31 March 2012). The
Economist is now read on more than 500,000 tablets and smartphones each week, and
economist.com generated an average 35 million monthly page views (12 months to 30
June 2012).

There’s more, though, as Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com, said in May that he expects to see 50 percent of the FT’s digital audience accessing FT content via mobile devices within three years.

[...] Grimshaw said: “The primary interface with a device is going to be mobile. We have to get used to the idea that the future of news publishing is on mobile,” adding that other news outlets have not yet realised this.

“Publishers are only just getting used to the desktop, but the audience has moved on.”

So what is the secret to the FT’s current success? More than just one secret, certainly – think about a heady combination of smart people, compelling content that you’re willing to pay for and access to it whenever and however you wish.

Yet there is far more depth to what you see purely on the surface, the great content and cool apps for mobile devices upon which to read, share and otherwise interact with it (and not a bad website to boot).

It’s also a great deal to do with the type of individual – the reader and/or subscriber – who wants to get such (connected) content digitally, in clear preference to the (stand-alone) way of paper and print.

While I haven’t seen any credible metrics or commentary by the FT on their desired digital-reader demographic – if you know of any such data, do let me know – it seems pretty obvious to me that it would embrace a description that includes reference to mobility, global perspective and vision, youth, intellect, strong digital network connections, influence, ambition…

Maybe the future for some (all?) mainstream media is about connecting to and engaging with a new type of individual, one to whom consuming, creating and sharing content digitally is a natural way to behave, and broaden your knowledge on the things that interest you. Print is definitely not in that inventory.

You could argue that, like many of its contemporaries, the FT is the modern hybrid business media property – the combination of traditional print and contemporary digital as it evolves in tandem with society.

Everyone is trying to figure out what will work to keep them in business and be relevant in the future.

Recently, I interviewed Kevin Delaney, editor-in-chief of Quartz, a new digital business magazine from US publisher Atlantic Media that’s launching this autumn.

One characteristic of Quartz is its format – digital only, no print edition, and aimed primarily at consumption on a mobile device.

Another characteristic – perhaps the more interesting one – is how Quartz sees its readers:

Leading the charge is a new class of global business executives who have more in common with each other than they do with their countrymen. They spend large parts of their physical and intellectual lives outside of their native lands. They access information on mobile devices that are ever at their sides. They know that the most dynamic businesses are rarely found in the old corridors of commerce and power – and confidently embrace the disrupters as part of their networks. In many ways, they are the arbiters of what “world class” really means.

These post-national business leaders are hungry for information that can help them better navigate the complex new global economy, optimizing their businesses and their lives. They’re looking for a worldview unconstrained by the Old World order. They need media native to all digital platforms and paced for around-the-clock mobile reading.

That looks to me just like the type of individual the FT wants as its digital subscriber, too.

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Easy FT on the iPhone

The Financial Times has joined the growing group of media companies offering an easy means for readers and subscribers to access the newspaper’s online content from wherever they happen to be via a bespoke app for the iPhone.

Today the FT launched its new FT mobile app for iPhone (iTunes link) that combines clean and fast access to FT.com content with the iPhone’s oh-so-easy user interface.

And a pretty experience it is, too, as this Animoto video at YouTube that I made from screenshots suggests.

I downloaded and installed the app early today from the App Store and ran through all it offers: FT news, comment and analysis, markets data, currency converter and access to your stock portfolios (you have to set these up on the FT.com website first).

If you’re an FT subscriber, you have full access to FT content, much as you do at the FT.com website. So when you load the app, you log in using your same credentials as you use for the website. Couldn’t be easier.

If you’re not a subscriber, then you have similar access to content as you do currently at the website: three stories a month and access to markets data without having to register. Wired magazine thinks this is a bad deal, calling the app “severely crippled trialware.” Well, I’m a paying subscriber to FT.com (and so probably a bit biased), but I think it’s a great deal: there are plenty of other choices for financial news if you don’t want to register or pay to subscribe.

The FT’s approach is different to that of the Wall Street Journal’s iPhone app, launched in April, the one I would tend to think of as a comparison (possibly because I used to subscribe to the Journal as well as the FT). In my experience, the WSJ blocks you with the subscriber firewall on the website if you’re not a subscriber but lets you access pretty much all content on the iPhone.

So if it’s business- and financial-oriented news and information you want on your iPhone (or iPod Touch) when you’re out and about, you’re now spoiled for choice with the FT’s app as well as apps from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg.

iphone-ft iphone-wsj

iphone-reuters iphone-bloomberg

To me, though, this is about affinities. News is the same everywhere; it’s one person’s or brand’s take on that news or other information that’s likely to make you favour one source over another – and possibly pay for access to it.

I like the FT for its columnists and other bespoke content that I can’t get anywhere else. I can imagine many FT users will love the scope and scale of financial information in this iPhone app – something none of the others offers to the same extent – presented so attractively and usefully, as well as being able to manage your stock portfolios from wherever and whenever you happen to be.

By the same token, I like the WSJ for it’s very American approach to its reporting as well as unique content (and on the iPhone, its video and audio reports as well as being able to save bookmarks to favourite content – something the FT doesn’t yet offer).

Last week, I was able to get a look at the app pre-launch thanks to Steve Pinches, Lead Product Development Manager at FT.com (and thanks to Drew Benvie and Ben Matthews of 33 Digital who set up our meeting).

ft-ftse100-iphone

Over a pleasant lunch (in a rather noisy restaurant), Steve walked me through the app and I recorded our conversation – you can listen to it here with the in-page Flash player at the top of the page, or download the MP3 (6.3Mb, 13:41)

Listening again to the recording, I jotted down these key words I noted from that conversation:

development, user research, navigation, content caching, no-furniture screen reading, news functionality, stock charts, everything on FT.com is here, market data, tear sheets, pinch and zoom charts, investor tools, 20-minute delay, Blackberry version to be developed, open up new user base, free app, same access rules as FT.com, portfolio one of most-requested features, currency converter.

In that conversation, you’ll hear Steve clearly position the FT’s app against Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg. Not the WSJ, you’ll note.

And when I asked Steve to highlight in a succinct, pithy phrase what the prime benefit of the FT’s iPhone app would be, he says:

Everything you need to know about business when you’re out of the office.

A pretty good description.

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