The latest figures from the Financial Times have exceeded the title’s expectations and the FT is confident that a strong focus on digital development has delivered a sustainable online publishing model, according to MD of FT.com, Rob Grimshaw.
The FT Group’s financial figures showed that nearly half of total traffic at the Financial Times (45 per cent) came from mobile in 2013, and the channel drove 62 per cent of subscriber consumption. Overall, FT.com digital subscriptions grew 31 per cent to 415,000, meaning digital subscribers now account for just over two-thirds (64 per cent) of the FT’s total paying audience.
Profits at the FT Group, which includes parent company Pearson’s 50 per cent stake in the Economist Group, increased by 17 per cent in 2013 to £55m, and total circulation for the FT was up by eight per cent year-on-year to 652,000 across print and online - the highest paying readership in its 126-year history.
“I think we’ve exceeded our expectations for last year,” Grimshaw told The Drum. “We’re really very pleased with the outcome, it’s on the back of a long track record of success and what we’ve managed to do in the past year is stay on this very positive trajectory of increasing profits and rapid transformation of the business.”
“We feel very strongly that we’ve got the formula right. We know what we need to do and that it’s just a question of time before we get there.”
Digital and services revenues now account for 55 per cent of FT Group’s overall revenues, an increase of 24 per cent over the last five years, while advertising revenues have dropped by 15 per cent in the last five years to 37 per cent of total revenues, signalling the success of the FT’s investment into digital services behind a paywall.
According to Grimshaw, bringing digital revenues alone up to 50 per cent of the overall total is a big medium term objective and the FT is “well on the way” to reaching it. A big 2013 milestone saw digital content revenue overtake print content revenue for the first time.
Part of the FT’s investment into digital, and mobile in particular, included the launch in 2011 of an HTML5 app that allowed the title to bypass Apple’s app store and deal directly with readers, cutting out Apple’s 30 per cent cut of subscriptions in the process. The FT now has more than five million users and has added to its mobile offering with new apps on Google Newsstand and Flipboard.
“We’re tracking the mobile audience very carefully because the proportion of traffic that we’re receiving from mobile is increasing at quite an astonishing pace,” Grimshaw continued. “The big thing is how much of our traffic is coming from a device that people are carrying around with them all the time. Traffic coming from mobile devices is sitting at 62 per cent for subscribers and 45 per cent of our total traffic when registered users and other traffic is included.”
In addition, In May last year the FT launched fastFT, an online Twitter-like stream designed to deliver breaking business news and analysis for readers, a project Grimshaw said was an important development for the title. The smartphone-friendly service was built with mobile in mind, which currently accounts for half of its audience.
Not only has the product been successful, according to Grimshaw, it resulted in big changes in the newsroom and it has helped build the audience.
“fastFT is an important development for us because it’s about creating output from the FT that’s very much adapted to the smartphone in particular. We are bring to bear our insight and analytical skills but we’re doing it at great pace.
“In order to achieve that we’ve created a completely new publishing process in the newsroom, so it’s very much linked to newsroom transformation. The fastFT publishing process enables us to get up a post within 10-15 minutes of a piece of news coming out and that’s crucially important in the digital publishing landscape that we now operate in.”
The FT’s figures show that the majority of new subscribers have visited fastFT before subscribing, and has been an important social link for the title. In the second half of 2013, nearly a third (31 per cent) of people who visited fastFT came from social media.
One key change in the year ahead at the FT will be a shift into educational services, with plans to pull in resources of FT Group’s parent company Pearson, which owns a substantial North American education business that brings in more than half of its revenues. The attraction of exclusive, premium services behind paywalls has been taken up widely by other publishers, such as News UK which has invested heavily in securing exclusive sports rights for the Sun readership. According to Grimshaw, publishers are gradually finding models that work on a paid content basis.
“It is an interesting time. Publishers are starting to get beyond the existential nervousness that was characterising the industry a couple of years ago, and starting to find business formulas that work, particularly around paid content,” he said. “They’re also starting to get smart around advertising and realise they can’t win just on value, and they have to be sophisticated about what they’re offering, whether that’s native advertising or smart targeting of their audience, or something else.
“I think increasingly there is a belief that viable publishing models exist on the web and there are models that will support high quality journalism.”
According to Grimshaw, the FT’s success has come as a result of adaptability and a multi-channel approach, a view echoed by the FT’s chief technical officer John O’Donovan, who detailed the title’s ‘universal publishing strategy.