The FT’s experiment with paywalled blogs

By Felix Salmon
June 10, 2010
JDB for alerting me to the fact that the FT is now moving its blogs behind its paywall, starting with Money Supply:

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Thanks to JDB for alerting me to the fact that the FT is now moving its blogs behind its paywall, starting with Money Supply:

Dear readers,

The Money Supply blog will become subject to FT.com’s subscription rules from Wednesday June 9… This brings Money Supply in line with the majority of FT.com content.

We appreciate your readership and comments, and hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

The post has received three comments so far, all of which are from subscribers to the print newspaper who say that they will henceforth no longer read the blog.

The move makes sense in a kind of tyranny-of-consistency way: the FT.com site believes that paywalls are the way to go, Money Supply is on the FT.com site, therefore Money Supply must be behind the paywall. But beyond that, it’s silly.

For one thing, the best reason for newspapers to put a paywall around their website is to support the circulation of the print product, where readers are much more lucrative in terms of both subscription and advertising revenue. Newspapers with free websites fear that their print readers will desert the newspaper for the online product, and they put up paywalls to make that decision less attractive.

Blogs are a great way for a newspaper to add online value for their print subscribers: they can put nichey content like wonky posts on central banking online, without using up precious newsprint. But the FT doesn’t give online access to its print subscribers: that’s a key difference between the FT paywall and the one being proposed by the NYT. And print subscribers understandably don’t particularly want to pay twice for the same content. So their relationship with the FT will necessarily weaken when they lose access to the blog content.

If the FT doesn’t seem to care about its print subscribers here, it cares even less about its bloggers. Money Supply was never going to be a big mainstream blog — it’s far too wonky for that — but it’s written by smart people, and it has very good content, and it had a real chance of becoming part of the broader online conversation. But there’s now essentially zero chance that its audience will grow substantially from its present low level. The writers of the Money Supply blog are very smart and valuable FT staffers, and they have no real interest in shouting into a void. What’s more, the FT has no real interest in using their valuable time to create something that almost nobody is reading. So inevitably Money Supply is going to drop slowly down the list of its writers’ and the FT’s priorities.

Even the paper’s online subscribers aren’t going to be reading Money Supply very much, if they don’t go looking for it: because it’s on the blog platform rather than the main newspaper-publishing platform, its entries don’t appear in FT search results. It’s all well and good treating all online content equally, but that doesn’t work if you set your blogs apart on a completely separate platform and even at a separate URL (blogs.ft.com rather than www.ft.com).

My guess is that the most likely outcome here is that Money Supply will fail to get much more traction, and will be quietly mothballed at some point down the road: right now I can’t see the FT reversing its decision and making it free again. That’s sad, because this kind of blog is a great way of using the power of the web. But the fact is that blogs and paywalls just don’t mix.

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