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Insights into the digital strategy at the Financial Times

Just as publishers were starting to get a handle on how to monetize the web, mobile devices exploded in popularity. Now mobile traffic from smartphones and tablets is challenging the business models of publishers and tech companies alike. To make sense of this transition, Muck Rack and the Financial Times (part-owner of The Economist Group) hosted “Beyond the Desktop”, a discussion of mobile trends in publishing.

FT.com managing director and Lean Back 2.0 contributor Rob Grimshaw sat down with Muck Rack’s Greg Galant to offer some insights into the FT’s digital strategy. I’ve collected a few of Grimshaw’s observations below.  

- The FT has famously decided to eschew the Apple system and instead offer its publication as an HTML5 web app on the iPhone or iPad. This means that instead of downloading the FT app through the Apple store, you find the site through your phone or tablet’s browser and add it to your homepage. Grimshaw pointed out the obvious business advantage to this strategy. Going through the app store means 30 percent of your revenue ends up in Apple’s pocket; use HTML5 and that 30 percent is yours. But, according to Grimshaw, using HTML5 also lowers editorial overhead. Editors can maintain and edit the FT.com site and have most of their changes trickle down to the mobile site. There’s no need for dedicated staff to man the mobile site, as at other publishing companies.

- Mobile is bringing a younger audience to the FT, Grimshaw reported. FT mobile readers are most frequently in their late 20s and early 30s, not the publication’s typical demographic.

- The current publishing business model is at odds with the way people today consume content, Grimshaw argued. Many publishers only make money when readers come to their site, yet readers now “pull” news in–through Facebook, Twitter and other social  media sites–rather than seek it out. That’s why the FT, Grimshaw said, works to make all of their content available to subscribers on the platforms they want. (Of course, the key work here is subscribers. Those not able or willing to spend $385 a year on the publication only have access to 8 articles a month).

- Don’t expect to see sponsored ads on the FT site anytime soon. While many publications, such as Forbes and BuzzFeed, are experimenting with this model, Grimshaw believes the FT can make more money maintaining its values and objectivity.

-What’s the biggest hurdle in publishing’s transition to digital? In Grimshaw’s experience, it’s not the rapidly-changing technology, but instead the corporate culture. For over 100 years, publishers haven’t had to innovate. They could put out one product and expect consumers to come to it. With the growth of the internet, traditional publishers were caught flat-footed and are now struggling to create a dynamic work environment that quickly responds to consumer needs and works across different departments to innovate. 

- What’s ahead for the FT? Grimshaw did hint at a Flipboard partnership where FT subscribers could read the newspaper directly on the Flipboard app.

Photo courtesy of the Financial Times