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.

8 comments

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Since FT does such a good job of hiding its blogs does it really matter if Money Supply is behind a paywall? I never even knew it existed. Alphaville is the only blog they give any exposure to on their pages. Others might get a link at the bottom of an article, once in a while. Or at least that is what this regular FT.com reader has observed, or not observed.

Posted by wpw | Report as abusive

I agree 100%, Felix. I subscribe to FT print (which is already prohibitively expensive) and I check Money Supply every day—its small bite-sized posts that are completely unfit for print publication. That said, they are excellent. The writers know what they are talking about (somewhat a rarity for CB bloggers) and the posts are informative, timely, and useful.

I have no interest in paying more for a product that they should give away to their print subscribers in the first place. Sad.

Posted by MRLAMF | Report as abusive

Felix – I subscribe to the print FT and it gives me full access to all online content. I think this is their standard model. Where did you get the idea that as a print subscriber you have to pay extra for online access?

Posted by ipwatcher | Report as abusive

ipwatcher: on, say, this page, where they make a clear distinction between the “newspaper subscription” and the “online + newspaper subscription”:
http://www.ft.com/cms/782b3c3e-e239-11dd -b1dd-0000779fd2ac.html?segid=70253

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive

I monitor blogs for an international organisation that deals a lot with central banks, picking important entries for viewing by economists, researchers, statisticians etc.

I’ve now dropped Money Supply from the list of blogs that I monitor. Even though we have an institutional FT subscription, users need to register individually. Even once that’s done, the cookies get cleared regularly so users here are forced to log in every so often. This is all painful because I want the users to immediately access the content.

In addition, I’m dropping coverage of Money Supply because, as you say, the authors will now be shouting into a void and it’ll be less important to know what they’re saying in future.

(Maybe I will cross-post my comment come to think of it.)

Posted by SBa | Report as abusive

(PS I tried to cross-post my comment on Money Supply, but I had to log in so I didn’t bother. Case in point!)

Posted by SBa | Report as abusive

I am pretty sure most FT print subscribers do automatically get online access (though the link posted implies this may not be the case in a few regions).

Surely the Money Supply blog – one with a small natural audience – won’t suffer too much by going behind the paywall. Many of its readers will already be FT subscribers and perhaps the quality of commentary will even improve – assuming FT subscribers are smarter and more articulate than your average netizen?

I think you’re overestimating the negative impact on the blog’s influence and reach Felix.

Posted by shehab | Report as abusive

More from Robert Shrimsley, managing editor of FT.com, on how more FT blogs will follow – http://www.journalism.co.uk/2/articles/5 39159.php

Posted by LauraO | Report as abusive