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Becoming the Financial Times

Becoming The Financial Times
Staying on the track is more important than beating the race.

Let’s be frank. Becoming one of the leading online publishers is quite hard. You’ve already experienced the rollercoaster with The Guardian. As we promised, we’re taking you again, this time with the Financial Times.

Why the Financial Times?

Everyone in adtech knows ft.com for its whooping readership and successful paid membership model. But there’s more than what meets the eye.

They pioneered the online news space and have initiated the paid subscription model. They took the necessary risks and of course, had their struggles during the early years.

It took 7 years for Financial Times to get into the black.

In fact, they still do. Even last year, they only managed to get just ~£10m profit on revenue of £452m.

However, what pushed us to cover their story – Strategic decisions. Financial Times never hesitated to be the first and always bounced back after criticism. FT is one of the few media companies which profited in the midst of the 2008 – 2009 financial crisis (Src). Do we need any more reasons?

How it all started?

It’s often more convenient to look at how many million readers ft.com has today than to actually see their numbers back in 1995.

Yeah, the Financial Times made its online debut with the launch of ft.com in the middle of 1995. As you have guessed, it’s way too early. To put this into perspective, there were only 23,500 websites in 1995 with internet users summing up to just 40 million (of those, only 1.1 million users were from the UK) (Src).

Ft.com is one of the 23,500 websites in 1995.

FT.com didn’t even have a million visitors for the first four years. We couldn’t find the estimates, however, Pearson’s annual report suggests that the website crossed 1 million visitors for the first time during the 1998 – 1999 period (Src).  

Financial Times in 1997

The website was more of a content syndication service drawing on over 50 million articles from 5,000 sources. All the profits were from the booming print advertising, ft.com didn’t make any profit.

At the time Forrester said the typical content-providing site will lose $2 million annually. 

Where they are today?

FT reaches, on average, over 26 million readers every month and has over 714,000 digital subscribers. They managed to make £452.5 million last year as per a resource (Src).

Does it look easy?

Because Pearson Plc and now, Nikkei (the parent of FT Group) both invested millions to revamp and improve ft.com and built in-house technologies to deliver results to the advertisers. From Live News to News Feed to Newsletters, ft.com offers a lot more than you probably think. So, it’s not anywhere near easy.

The Financial Times in 2021

We can see an anomaly in the growth projections. Typically, a content site (legendary and pretty old) will grow its user base by 50x or 100x (take The Guardian for example) in two decades. But ft.com reaches only 25 million.

Well, that’s Financial Times. They are peculiar and precise in their marketing strategies and content creation. Reaching the most influential people and business decision-makers is their goal. Nothing more, nothing less.

Becoming The Financial Times

Online Foray – A Great Risk

1996 – 2001

In 1996, the Financial Times had reached a readership of over a million spanning across 160 countries, with a worldwide circulation of 300,000. FT had five times (appx.) the readership of the Wall Street Journal at that time.

What’s clear is that there is no need for Financial Times to invest heavily on the Internet considering it wasn’t working well. After all, it already had readers from 160 countries. What’s the need?

The publisher believed in changing consumer behavior. They realized that it wouldn’t be too long to see readers visiting online directories or websites to know what’s happening around them.

Net Team

It’s time to get back to 1996. Generally, large media companies would like to reach as many readers as possible and the Internet was the new shiny object promising global reach. But several media organizations failed in their attempts to capitalize on the Internet.

Limited bandwidth leading to congestion and discontented advertisements weren’t helping.

By July 1996, more than 70%of the commercial providers of original content on the World Wide Web including virtually all of the large high-profile mass media sites had disappeared or radically scaled back their operations. This prompted Don Logan, President of Time, Inc., to retitle the World Wide Web, “The Great Black Hole”.

– Global Electronic Commerce (Src).

Then, there’s ft.com

While others are scaling back, FT invested and built a dedicated team “Net team” to run and maintain ft.com. The team relies on advertising revenue to grow and sustain, which was considered a perilous move in 1996.

Experimenting with micro-payments

We know ft.com had a paywall from 2002. But they’ve been experimenting with it right from the start. Back in 1996, ft.com had a pay-per-view archive section offering access to four million articles. However, daily content is free.

“The site is all about giving the consumer a variety of options. We want to lock them into the subscription model as it is cash upfront and easy to administrate, but the key is to offer them the choice”

– Director, ft.com (Src).

Automatad Team

At Automatad, we help publishers to monetize better without hampering the user experience. Our products are live across hundreds of publishers, earning them incremental ad revenue with every passing second. You can request a free audit to get an estimated revenue uplift today.

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