Financial Times: Pay to play

August 5, 2009

I stumbled across this headline on Wednesday morning:

FT Bosses Launch PR Offensive For Paid-Content Model

I thought: “Launch? Don’t you mean ‘Launched’?” The Financial Times brass has been arguing for months that the only newspapers that will survive the tough times they have been through lately are those that stop giving away the news online, and can do it without sacrificing the advertising money they earn on the Web.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog that produced that headline, courtesy of digitalarmm:

Editor Lionel Barber tells Channel 4 in an interview that there is now “an inexorable momentum behind charging for content” and he urges other national papers only considering introducing paywalls — essentially all of them — to act now (See the video link inside the digtalarmm blog post)

Here’s more:

Meanwhile Barber’s boss, FT CEO John Ridding, was busy telling’s resident press blogger Roy Greenslade that the FT now makes one fifth of its profits from its website, compared to 17 percent in 2007.

None of this is too surprising, but here’s the third prong in the strategy: the equivalent of a house ad supporting the FT’s doctrine on paid content, not published as a real ad, but as the thrust of a commentary in the FT’s Lex column:

The challenge is to restore growth. Those titles most likely to benefit from any eventual rebound will be the top brands or specialist publications that held the line on advertising prices and can credibly charge for content. Weaker publications, having ceded pricing power in their desperation to win business, are unlikely to get it back.

It’s a good thing that the Lex team feels this way because it saves the FT from having to take out ad space in its own paper. That’s synergy!

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Charging up front for content is very difficult – few papers can hold the line on quality these days. I cancelled my WSJ subscription partly because the part of their website I needed (“your portfolio”) stopped working and their support people refused to fix it; but mostly because of the racist tone of their op-ed pieces.

One suspects the real cash cow will be the first paper which dares to introduce a system of micro-payments for “Have Your Say”ers. Or even goes the whole hog and auctions off op-ed colum inches. Who knows? Drivel written rich nutters with an axe to grind may be even more entertaining what’s printed there now….

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