Financial Times explores extending subscription model to social networks
By Marie Griffin
Financial Times' June 2011 launch of an HTML5-based mobile application for the iPad was a risk in ways that were not obvious to the public, according to Rob Grimshaw, FT.com managing director. FT was the first major news organization to launch a mobile Web app that could create a user experience similar to a native app, specifically designed for Apple's iOS operating system but without the constraints of Apple's iTunes App Store. While outsiders raised questions about whether the iPad app would be discovered by large numbers of consumers, FT's developers voiced their own concerns. "They weren't totally sure how long it would take or how much it would cost," Grimshaw said.
Nonetheless, "we felt we had to do it," he added.
One of the main factors driving that decision was FT's all-access, paid-subscription model, which allowed subscribers to consume FT content on any digital device for one price. Although Apple would launch an app for publishers with subscription models with the debut of Newsstand later in 2011, it wasn't able to accommodate FT's model when the decision to develop the HTML5 app was made.
Mobile has since become a major driver of FT traffic and subscriptions, and the HTML5 choice has proved successful, Grimshaw said. Between May 2011 and May 2012, Financial Times saw the number of users accessing its content on smartphones increase 133% and tablet usage rise 111%.
Now that FT has pioneered paid-content models for the desktop and mobile devices, Grimshaw said he would like to find a seamless way for subscribers to access FT content within social networks such as Facebook, where content is currently free. "We're looking at how to enable subscribers to read our content within the platform itself, but we recognize that there is currently friction in that process," he said, referring to the lack of pay walls or subscription structures within Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
Many traditional publishers have not adequately responded to changing consumer media consumption patterns, Grimshaw said. "Increasingly, people want to bring the news into their social spheres rather than going to get it," he said. "Our job should be to put in place the plumbing that allows consumers to consume content on whichever platform they want." He noted that FT has more than 1.5 million followers on Google+, more than 700,000 Twitter followers, and almost 500,000 followers on Facebook.
Grimshaw talked about FT's mobile and social initiatives during a mid-November event co-hosted by Muck Rack, a network for journalists who use Twitter and other social media platforms, and communications professionals who want to reach them. Its parent company, Sawhorse Media, produces the annual Shorty Awards for social media content creators. Gregory Galant, co-founder and CEO of Sawhorse Media, conducted the Q&A with Grimshaw.