Tag Archives: Rob Grimshaw

Independent: Ten years of FT’s metered pay model

The Independent reports on the 10th anniversary of the Financial Times’ metered paywall going up.

For a decade the FT has allowed readers to access a limited number of articles for free before payment is required, a similar paywall model to that adopted by the New York Times last week. The FT has notched up 210,000 digital subscribers, each paying at least £250 for a year’s access.

[Managing director of FT.com Rob] Grimshaw points to the price of an FT digital subscription in the US – at $389 (£241), it is costlier than a subscription to the newspaper – as evidence of the growing value of digital content to the consumer.

Yet the view that online journalism should be free still largely prevails. Grimshaw is mystified: “There seems to be a real nervousness and lack of confidence amongst publishers about the lack of value of their content. The free content evangelism movement has not helped, neither has giving away content for free over a 10-year period.”

But as a couple of the comments on the article point out, the FT is a specialist publication and both companies and individuals are willing to pay for valued digital content.

The Independent’s full article is at this link

Making money from registered (non-paying) users

Subscription revenues for FT.com have risen 43 per cent year-on-year, helping the newspaper keep in profit for 2009, the Guardian reports.

But its management has also flagged up the potential in other areas, too: BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan Jones’ interview with FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw touches on the money-making potential of registered news site users – who don’t necessarily pay.

What’s interesting is that the middle group, those who register but don’t pay, are still proving lucrative. The 1.9 million people registered users have given some very basic information such as their job title.

That’s enough, according to Mr Grimshaw, to allow the FT to run a targeted advertising and marketing operation with high yields.

While the FT’s higher tier of paying subscribers brings in around £20 million a year, it is still thinking about the freeloading clientele.

So are non-paywalled publishers missing a trick by not setting up registration systems, for fear of traffic drop-off?

It’s perhaps worth going back to my interview with Rob Grimshaw in January:

User analytics
Monitoring the behaviour of 1.8 million registered users and 121,000 subscribers is a big part of the FT’s marketing strategy, he said.

“Their details are in a database: we have a lot of demographic information about them; we’re also able to combine that with their normal activity on the website. That data base is a goldmine that brings benefits to many parts of the business.”

Specific advertising can be exposed to a certain audience and direct communication can be made by email, he said. “1.8 million users have self-selected as people who are interested in our content and our business,” he added. “It is an area where there are enormous benefits to be gained.”

He argued that privacy is not infringed by the publication’s methods: “We never focus on behaviour of particular individuals: we are always looking at things in aggregate; how a sector of our database of users behaves.

“We would never allow an advertiser access to that [user information]. That would be both unacceptable and illegal.”

The success of companies like Amazon was due to carefully targeted marketing, he said:

“Some of the most successful companies out there have built their businesses by understanding the behaviour of their users in a very defined way; using their insight to develop their business decision making.”

Rob Grimshaw on the paywall backlash

FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw, regular spokesperson for the paid-for content model,  has a real problem with the language used by critics of the paywall, he told Journalism.co.uk yesterday.

“It’s always put into pejorative terms.” he said, “It doesn’t happen to any other product: you don’t talk about restaurants giving people a bad user experience by giving them a bill at the end of it.

“It’s understood that something has been produced and it needs to be paid for; somehow with news content it has become a totally different argument,” he said.

It is almost regarded as a “sort of a criminal act to have the temerity to charge for some of our products,” Grimshaw added. “It’s something that we need to get away from.”

“We’re not a charity, we’re a company with shareholders: there’s nothing free about the information we produce – our editorial operation costs millions of pounds to run and we don’t see it’s odd to put a price on it. In fact, it’s probably the only way to run a reasonable business.”

Needless to say, he supports the NYT’s newly announced FT-style subscription model, scheduled for 2011: “Publishers need to get themselves out the hole and be a bit more bold and brassy,” he said.

Publishers shouldn’t, he added, be afraid to say their content has got a value. While he admitted the FT has a niche and affluent reader base for its subscriber model, he believes general news sites can do it as well.

“Our sense [is that] if other publishers do go for it, they will be able to build successful models.”

FT.com is not without its free content rivals, he said: “[W]e’re not short of competition – for every topic we cover on FT.com you can find a list of sites as long as your arm.”

“There are parallels between what we’re doing and what general news publishers will have to do as well. For me, the big thing is quality. It all comes back to quality. Whether it’s niche [or not] it’s got to be good”.

General news sites have the capability, brand and long heritage with which to build better quality sites, Grimshaw argued. They can be “far more compelling than one man blogging in a room,” he said.

“There are numerous ways that publishers can create sites which people are prepared to pay for because they are better than anything else that’s out there.

“I don’t see that the publishers are going to have trouble to get their users to pay for content.”

Grimshaw’s firm belief, as he has said before, is that newspapers cannot  live by advertising alone.

Citing IAB figures from last year (available at this link), he said it was paid-for search that took “by far” the bulk of the money: around 62 per cent; with 19 per cent to classified; and only 18 per cent to online advertising spend.

“It seems everybody in the whole world is trying to float their business on that [advertising model]. It’s just not big enough for every one of those businesses  (…) so something is going to have to give.

“Either publishers are going to find themselves in serious difficulties, or they’re going to have to come up with another way of making money.”

FT.com’s forthcoming content plans include a new Blackberry app, ‘one day pass’ subscriptions, and video for iPhone.

Read more about it on our main site.

FT results: FT.com paid-for subscriptions up 9%

According to parent company Pearson’s preliminary financial results for 2008, released today, the Financial Times’ website saw a 9 per cent growth in paid-for subscribers to 109,609.

Register users – the free-part of the access model – increased from approximately 150,000 at the end of 2007 to 966,000 by the end of last year.

In September last year, FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw told Journalism.co.uk that the financial crisis had caused an explosion in registrations and subscriptions to the site.

Advertising revenues for FT Publishing as a group fell by 4 per cent, but overall profits for 2008 rose by 13 per cent to £195 million.

“[G]rowth of digital and subscription businesses and strong demand for premium content exceed decline in advertising revenues,” said a release from Pearson.

“At the FT Group, we anticipate continued strong demand for high-quality analysis of global business, finance, politics and economics; a tough year for advertising; strong renewal rates in our subscription businesses; and continued growth at Interactive Data.”

The group’s publishing division posted a 9 per cent increase in sales to £74m (£56m in 2007).

Pearson itself recorded an adjusted operating profit rise of 11 per cent to £762 million in 2008.

FT.com on Robert Peston: the characters shouldn’t get bigger than the brand

Well, although we’re not having a drink in the Long Room we did get to ask FT.com’s Rob Grimshaw about his views on the BBC’s Robert Peston (formerly of the FT). After all, the FT lept to the BBC’s economic editor’s defence last week.

What does Grimshaw, FT.com’s managing director, think of Peston-mania? Journalism.co.uk asked.

“Ah, the all powerful Robert Peston,” Grimshaw laughed.  Individual and ‘big’ personalities are important, he said. “The characters matter. It’s not just about the FT brand – it’s about what these individuals think.

“But I don’t think they can ever be bigger than the brand,” he said. Although, ‘ultimately they are part of core FT message,’ he said.

You can listen to his comments here:


J.co.uk ain’t in the old boys’ financial club just yet

Journalism.co.uk got a long chat with the FT’s Rob Grimshaw last week, as reported over on the main news channel. He’s been ever so busy talking to lots of media reporters about FT.com’s new, and exclusive, Long Room facility.

Sadly, Journalism.co.uk can’t report back on the exact nature of the Long Room … we did try and sneak in this morning but this has just pinged back:

“Thank you for your application to join FT Alphaville’s Long Room. We regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful, as you don’t appear to meet our strict criteria for membership.”

We’re told we can try again if our situation changes. Ho hum. Looks like we’ll be gazing in the windows of the old boys’ club for a while, from the cold and snowy outside. We’d chosen a little profile cartoon and everything.

We did know we weren’t exactly qualified, but our multimedia curiousity got the better of us. To be fair, we probably have don’t have much to take to the online financial ‘table’.

We’ll just have to make do with Markets Live for now.

links for 2008-06-25