The business platform for digital media

Learnings Courtesy of The Financial Times

Oct 08, 2013
Industry trends

Early this morning, 7:30 AM to be exact, I had the pleasure of attending an event at The Harvard Business School Club of New York featuring Rob Grimshaw, Managing Director of  Over the course of an hour, and on the record, Grimshaw, who has been with The Financial Times since 1998, discussed his role heading up the FT’s business-to-consumer digital business and product portfolio.  Below are some of the best nuggets from the event.  (Note: all figures are attributed to Grimshaw and my notes.)


Back in August 2011, the FT pulled its iPad and iPhone apps from Apple’s App Store.  The FT didn’t like Apple’s business terms.  The 125 year-old publisher made a conscious decision to “operate in the browser with a direct connection to the user”, i.e. they decided to go with an HTML5 app.

Since its launch, the HTML5 app has had more than 4 million users.

50% of the FT’s pageviews are mobile, i.e. phone and tablet.

Google already has an ~53% share of the global, mobile ad market with Facebook at ~16% – services such as Spotify and Pandora are also doing well in the mobile ad space.

Increasing paid subscribers

When the FT got rid of the teaser copy that preceded each headline, i.e. the first few lines of each story, they ended up doubling their sales.  It turns out that giving away the first couple of lines of a story, which essentially summarize the story itself, amounted to giving away too much value.

Challenging online ad market for publishers, or really anyone not named Google, Facebook, Twitter…

See Google, et als mobile market share numbers.

50% of all global pageviews are generated by social

15% by portals

8% by search

1.5% by publishers/news

The FT, in part via its paywall, is trying to create scarcity in a market that is massively over supplied.

FT Paywall 2.0

When asked how the FT needed to continue iterating its paywall, Grimshaw spoke about the need to “add steps to the staircase.”  By this he means that while the FT has more than 300,000 digital subscribers it has 5 million registered, free users and that the “commitment cliff” currently on the site goes from $0 to upwards of $600 without any offers in-between.  Figuring out how to bundle and charge for the “steps”, i.e. getting non-subscribers to enter into a paying relationship with the FT, is part of what the next version of the paywall will have to do.