Making FT.com compelling

London-based publishing conglomerate Pearson – owner of the Financial Times, among other companies – announced its half-year financial results this morning.

Market watchers seem pleased with Pearson’s performance. One item in the press release caught my eye:

[…] FT.com benefits from launch of innovative new access model involving registration for access to more than five articles per month. Subscribers maintained at around 100,000, while registered users increase more than three-fold from almost 150,000 at the end of 2007 to 500,000 at the end of July 2008.

I recall this access model for the Financial Times’ online content as a discussion topic during my visit to FT.com last month.

Note the two distinct groups: ‘subscribers’ and ‘registered users.’ As a registered user, you get access to content for free up to 30 stories a month (and up to five a month for free without even registering). After 30, you have to pay.

The growth in the number of registered users – it works out to about 12,000 new users a week – indicates that people are clearly willing to offer up their names, addresses, etc, in return for free access to some online content. (I’m a long-time paying subscriber to FT.com so I’m not sure how the registration system works now to get around people who will register with fake names, email addresses, etc. I’m sure there is in place things like email verification.)

This is all about getting access to content that you regard as authoritative, compelling or unavailable anywhere else, or all three (which is how I usually see it).

I don’t use FT.com for general financial news – that’s just about a commodity these days with multiple places online where you can get that news totally for free. But I do often check what the FT says about something I read elsewhere.

To me, the primary value in the FT’s content is the columnists’ or reporters’ angles on that content that you can’t get anywhere else, both in their reporting and sometimes in one or other of the FT blogs. Add to that the audiovisual news you can now get on FT.com, with the 40 or so videos published each month that complement the 400 stories a month, according to the website’s FAQ, and you do have quite a compelling offering.

Now flip to the business side of this from the FT’s point of view.

When you become a registered user and get free access to those 30 stories a month, you will become a hot and valuable prospect for the FT’s marketing to persuade you to become a paying subscriber, as FT.com MD Rob Grimshaw said in an interview with PaidContent last month.

I can’t imagine the FT (or Pearson) wanting to see the number of paying subscribers staying static.

And the company already has deals for large corporations to take out volume subscription contracts; you can expect to see more of that happening.

You’ll also see more content licensing deals the FT will strike with third-party service providers who will offer FT.com content to their own customers.

So if it’s compelling content you want, FT.com is certainly worth free registration at the very least.

I’m wondering what else to expect from the FT and their PR agencies like Hotwire as there’s currently an online survey running on the website, accessed via a click-thru banner ad, that asks a series of questions related to social media and how you access content at FT.com.

I’m staying tuned.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Alex Manchester

    I wrote about the FT.com’s subs model in a guest blogging spot for SIPA UK. You can read the post here.

    As per that post, I tend to have similar thoughts as you, Neville. From a user’s perspective, I wouldn’t mind paying for quality info that I need and rely on.

    If I was in a position to need way more than 30 articles per month from the FT (I say way more because if it was just one or two articles over I’d probably just try using a separate computer to skirt the IP issues), then I’d pay for it quite happily, and this seems to be what the FT is banking on.

  2. Danny Whatmough

    “I don’t use FT.com for general financial news – that’s just about a commodity these days with multiple places online where you can get that news totally for free. But I do often check what the FT says about something I read elsewhere.”

    Great point – and this really is the key for online (and offline) media. If you want to charge for content then it needs to add ‘value’ and simply reporting is no longer enough.

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