A compelling future for digital business media


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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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. Richard Aucock (@richardaucock)

    Compelling words, Neville. I’m willing to pay for FT content because it is unique, informed and very high quality. Just as I’m happy to pay for automotive outlet Just-Auto, it’s a very useful product that justifies itself daily.

    Encouraging news for the future of journalism: if paywalls are one idea of a sustainable future, and it’s only high-quality content that people will pay for, well…

  2. Stanley Rao

    awesome post and like the point of publishers are just used to their desk top but the audience have moved on… which is actually true.. people are adapting to the changes in their environment..

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