Background of concept
Since the advent of the Internet, publishers have been mulling the 'be free or not to be free' question on content. While most UK newspapers remain aligned to the free access model, the Financial Times website moved to a paid-for model after the dotcom bubble burst in 2001.
FT.com put a significant part of its content behind a subscription barrier. This allowed it to successfully build up a revenue stream from around 100,000 subscribers, though effectively slamming down the shutters of the paper’s virtual shop window in the face of the very people it wanted to attract.
In October 2007, the site launched a completely new business model, based on counting the frequency of readers’ visits to the site. It gives free access to those who wish to “dip in” sometimes, but prompts those who read 10 articles in a month to subscribe.
Frequent dippers – those who read 3 articles in a month – are prompted to register for free. The shop window shutters are now effectively open, with the online paper still charging for goods inside.
The model also appeals to advertisers who can see the quality of the FT’s readership because every registrant is asked to give details on his or her business sector, responsibility and job title.
Creativity and originality
The frequency model is an effective “third way” between the Scylla of subscriptions and the Charybdis of free-to-air.
The FT.com access model works like a funnel, where the more anonymous traffic is put through the top, turns into more registered users in the middle, who turn into more subscribers at the bottom. The frequency model is a paradigm shift from the “be free or not to be free” argument.
In short, the model has exploited the technical opportunities of the web to think about this whole dilemma in a completely different way.
Understanding of market
The frequency model was born of experimentation: by late 2006, it was clear that the subscription model was putting too many barriers in front of prospective readers. FT.com
didn’t want to go entirely free because that approach would put it in a traffic battle - a battle the paper couldn’t win because its journalism is not mass market.
The Financial Times understood that it needed to take a different approach to the market if it wanted to retain the value of its content, while opening up the site’s content for all to see. The challenge was to build traffic while also building a base of ‘known users’ - registered and subscribed users.
Success against objectives
- Drive registrations - in mid-July 2008, FT.com hit the milestone mark of having over 500,000 registered users on the site. It broke through the one million barrier in January 2009
- Increase user engagement - number of pages viewed by each unique user has increased nearly 250% in the judging period
"FT.com's access model showed a great understanding of usage patterns, smart use of technology and enabling significant growth whilst preserving their premium positioning."
Read more about FT.com’s advertising solutions at www.ft.com/advertising
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