A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

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The Financial Times dropped its paywall over the Brexit weekend, deeming it important enough to give full access to its journalism. The result? A subscriptions surge.

In fact, the FT saw a 600 percent surge in digital subscriptions sales over the weekend (compared to the average weekend) since the Brexit vote news broke, which equated to “thousands” of additional subscriptions sales.

The Times did the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw similar results.

The Financial Times Discovers That a Paywall Is Not a Panacea

The Financial Times is going through some financial hard times, and it’s down to print advertising, not the (successful) paywall.

Matthew Ingram:

Lamont said in his memo to FT employees that print revenue at the paper has been “far softer than expected in the first quarter of the year.” According to Politico, media measurement agencies like Enders in the U.K. estimate that between 2010 and 2018, the mainstream print industry’s share of display advertising will fall from about 30% of the total to under 10%.

Here’s a prediction for you: it won’t be reader disinterest that kills off the majority of print newspapers – it will be advertisers pulling their money out and putting it elsewhere.

Pando, occasional unapologetic copyright thieves, have decided to erect a paywall:

From today, the newest articles on Pando will be available to members first. Membership costs just $10 a month (or $100 a year, if you pay upfront) and members also get unlimited access to our entire video archive and to our real world events, in person and via livestream.

I guess we’ll find out how many people are willing to pay for undifferentiated opinion in a heavily over-provided news space (startup-centric tech), huh? Having spent over a decade working with paywalled business, both successful and unsuccessful, it’s pretty clear that people will pay for news they can use – and not undifferentiated news and opinion. My experience of reading Pando is that they have the latter not the former – but maybe there’s a content strategy shift at play, too.

They clearly think there will be enough people signing on to inflate their tech costs:

To coincide with our new membership model, we’ve spent months redesigning Pando from the ground up, including moving away from WordPress VIP to our own in-house CMS.

Building your own CMS can work – if you have the funding and focus of, say, Buzzfeed:

Pando has raised less than four million dollars in funding, ever — around 1/25th of the amount raised by Buzzfeed.

Oh, well. Never mind.

Douglas Boulton, one of this academic year’s crop of Interactive Journalism students at City, has just finished a couple of weeks as Ben Whitelaw’s personal coffee table doing shifts on The Times‘s community desk, and he’s shared his experiences:

I’m well aware of the bile that comments sections online are often dripping with, and honestly I was expecting my two weeks of moderating to be a fairly harrowing experience. Fortunately, you guys are alright, really. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the fact that The Times is a paywalled site, but by and large, 95% of you are respectful, rule-abiding, and most importantly, interesting in what you comment.

Not quite what I expected, either. One of the interesting things about The Times right now is that it’s one of the biggest experiments in building community behind a paywall, and that leads to some interesting side-effects. Maybe people won’t pay for the privilege of being arseholes online?

So please, when I give you a warning because you’ve libelled someone with your comment, relax for a minute and think of me sitting in a lonely office half way through a nightshift and a bit sweaty from my fifth cup of coffee, before you send me a furious email in which you call me a “jumped-up little c***.” Cheers.

Well, OK, apparently some of them will…

The FT Weekend app
One of the interesting things to surface in the work Neil & I did with the FT last summer was how different the readership for the paper is at the weekend. It looked like there might be an opportunity there.

Well, it appears that the Financial Times is making moves to capitalise on that:

FT Weekend readers can from today access content through the new FT Weekend app, a mobile-first proposition built as part of the FT’s award-winning HTML5 web app. The app is launching across iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices, and will come with a standalone subscription after the first free month which is supported by Swiss watch manufacturer Ulysse Nardin.

I’ve re-added the web app shortcut to my iPad this morning. The Weekend section is quite lovely, with a real magazine feel. The performance is slightly stuttery on my ageing iPad 3, but it’s a pleasant reading experience. Once again I’m reminded of how little difference there can be between a web and native app, once you launch it from an icon…

I can’t justify the cost of a full FT subscription as part of my work, but I’ll happily pay for the Weekend content. There’s some excellent journalism published there, and I’m looking forwards to digging through it.


News from the north: The Press and Journal is using Piano Media’s tech for a metered paywall – the first UK company to do so:

DC Thomson’s Head of Digital, Kirsten Morrison said, “After looking at the various paid content solution providers, we decided that Piano’s ‘Lite’ solution was the best fit for us. “We were very impressed by Piano’s flexibility and their integration and implementation speed.”

The Press and Journal’s website focuses on providing instant news access to users with a real-time stream of breaking news in timeline form. The website operates on a metered paywall basis offering readers access to ten free articles per month after which they must choose from one of three available subscription packages.

Interesting that metered paywalls are getting common enough to support a few off-the-shelf tech suppliers.

The FT is offering single-use links for its subscribers to share content.

It’s almost a Snapchat for news… 🙂

Interesting move, in that it potentially turns existing subscribers into advocates for the service – and adds value to their subscription, by making content sharable with colleagues. It doesn’t do anything to solve the social sharing problem – but that’s a separate challenge for them.

The news release went out today, but the surprise was rather blown last week by excited FT staff:

[Full disclosure: The FT has been a major client for the last few months, and I’ve been delivering workshops for them in partnership with Neil Perkin and eConsultancy]

HowlerHave I written about Andrew Sullivan’s attempt to make his long-running blog The Dish a sustainable media enterprise? Ah, only in passing. Time to correct that.

The Dish has been on my reading list for as long as I can remember. Sullivan’s work was a huge influence on me in my early days as a blogger (over a decade ago…). But what makes his current campaign to make The Dish pay its own way is that he’s not starting where most bloggers do – with just themselves to support. No, he’s got a team of writers and interns, and he’s aiming to do it without ads or venture capital backing. It’s going well:

With your help, and with six weeks to go, we’re now at $807K in our first year revenue, closing in on our goal of $900K. Tinypass made that possible; you made it happen. If you are a regular reader of the Dish, all we ask is that you consider if what we provide each day is worth $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year. If it is, please subscribe.

I’ve been a subscriber for over 10 months, and I’m really hoping he hits his target. As he says himself:

As you can see, this model is not just about us. It’s about building a future for a whole range of new media on the ashes of the old.

That’s really the key point here – is there scope for small online businesses built around blogging sustained by the readers? If the answer is “yes”, then we have a very interesting future ahead of us…

The Sun+

(This post will be updated as I find other interesting stuff to add.)

Sarah Marshall has made her notes from the Sun+ briefing public. Of note:

“We are not becoming digital-first – we sell an awful lot of newspapers every day,” says Derek. And with the coupons in the paper, “if you are a regular Sun reader you never pay for Goals”. And they have the white van driver in mind. They have a smartphone in their pocket. They can scan the code below the match report in the paper and can watch Goals.

Interesting. That suggests a primarily defensive move – use digital to shore up print sales. Could be a good short- to medium-term strategy.

You “accept” that web traffic will drop, says Mike. 32 million in July. But there’s not a lot of value in the casual reader. Most interested in the really engaged reader. “If you get off on volume metrics it’s exciting, but not of much value to the business.”

Or, as a metrics-specialist friend of mine once said: HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success.

Update 1: Sarah has now posted her full report of the Sun+ briefing. Of note:

The Sun has also hired “key columnists” and “bloggers”. The bloggers are journalists, but not necessarily sports writers, Brown explained. “They are sport fans that are fantastic writers.”

Interesting community play around sport. This whole move is clearly very sports-led.

Update 2: Patrick Smith’s analysis is now up and he thinks it’s all about The Sun’s reader relationships:

Does News UK want to increase the ARPU (average revenue per customer) across the Sun’s brand, to counteract falling advertising and circulation? No, says Darcey – it’s about turning a mass, anonymised web audience into a smaller, more targeted data-rich audience.

He also notes the print protectionism in the strategy:

As some of us have long suspected since Rupert Murdoch’s Damascene conversion to paywalls in 2010, the real motivation behind much of this is to protect and maybe even increase print sales. This is especially true of the The Sun which sold 2.24 million copies a day on average in June (down from 4 million in the 1980s).

Right about now, I should have been emerging into a rainy London from News UK’s headquarters after a “blogger briefing” on the new Sun paywall. Instead, I’m sat in a lovely cafe in my home town, because some poor unfortunate ended their days in front of a train at East Worthing.

It’s a shame – I’d have loved the chance to put questions to the team the about their philosophy and expectations around Sun+. The conventional wisdom is that people are more likely to pay for “news you can use”- like the FT for example – than general news. Something which borders on entertainment as much as news, like The Sun, seems like a serious challenge. Greenslade has broken down some of the details this morning, a piece which appears to express some doubts about the model.

Luckily, according to the invite list, there were folks from and The Media Briefing there – and Hobbo, too. I’ll link anything good from them as it emerges.

(Dammit, I just accidentally buttered the edge of my iPad.)