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Free is the only business model for online news

That is a feeling I have had for sometime and is re-enforced by the recent results from FT.com.

This is from PaidContent:

But, despite FT.com unveiling a new access model in November (giving five articles free per month, and a further 30 for those who register), we’re still seeing a plateau in paying  subscribers. Results said subscriber levels were only “maintained” at “around 100,000” – the same figure as last month, when MD Rob Grimshaw told me sub levels were “largely static”.  non-paying registrations, of course, have tripled since the switch, from almost 150,000 to 500,000 at present – so FT.com isn’t converting many of these to paying subs but is trying to monetise them through other means, like direct marketing and on-site advertising.

The message here is clear. People love the content, but aren’t prepared to subscribe. I am in that camp myself. Furthermore, my guess is that if they got rid of the five/thirty articles limit their traffic would rise even faster.

The real way to make money, as shown by the Guardian is to build out a community which converses about the news, and leverage that to offer other paying services like recruitment. For those that want to look further into the future I would add syndicate your content so people can consume it where they want to, and build monetisation into the feed.

BTW – if you fall foul of the five articles per month limit on FT.com you can set your counter back to zero by deleting your browsing history, cookies etc.

  • http://www.fiftybyfifty.com/lifeoffarhan/ Farhan Lalji

    Interesting, wondering if the increase in traffic and ad income would offset the income from the subscribers (no matter how minimal the number of subscribers is). Would be interesting to see the wsj subs numbers and compare.

  • http://www.fiftybyfifty.com/lifeoffarhan/ Farhan Lalji

    Interesting, wondering if the increase in traffic and ad income would offset the income from the subscribers (no matter how minimal the number of subscribers is). Would be interesting to see the wsj subs numbers and compare.

  • http://www.nixonmcinnes.co.uk Will McInnes

    Nic – I agree, although it is slightly intellectually disappointing that there isn’t a new fangled business model that has emerged yet, but clearly – as you say – the advice has to be to accelerate into the freeness and distributedness of content, and to use clumsy but proven tools to monetize (advertising!).

  • http://www.nixonmcinnes.co.uk Will McInnes

    Nic – I agree, although it is slightly intellectually disappointing that there isn’t a new fangled business model that has emerged yet, but clearly – as you say – the advice has to be to accelerate into the freeness and distributedness of content, and to use clumsy but proven tools to monetize (advertising!).

  • http://www.zebtab.com Rob Eberstein

    Absolutely agree. Other newspaper sites are monetising in slightly different ways – dating, fantasy football & bingo etc, though not sure the FT would approve of the latter! Maybe Fantasy Stock Markets instead.

  • http://www.zebtab.com Rob Eberstein

    Absolutely agree. Other newspaper sites are monetising in slightly different ways – dating, fantasy football & bingo etc, though not sure the FT would approve of the latter! Maybe Fantasy Stock Markets instead.

  • Hoover

    Interesting comparison between the Guardian’s approach and the FT’s.

    The solution for the FT would be to build a community that discusses the news like they do on the Guardian site.

    However… let’s not forget reality:

    1) Guardian readers have more time than FT readers to discuss the news. Guardian readers’ time is less valuable than that of FT readers.

    2) Guardian readers have a background of debate and discussion of abstractions, gained at university. They’re attracted to the site because they can continue that debate for free with like-minded readers. FT readers, on the other hand, are there to glean data. They don’t want to discuss abstractions.

  • Hoover

    Interesting comparison between the Guardian’s approach and the FT’s.

    The solution for the FT would be to build a community that discusses the news like they do on the Guardian site.

    However… let’s not forget reality:

    1) Guardian readers have more time than FT readers to discuss the news. Guardian readers’ time is less valuable than that of FT readers.

    2) Guardian readers have a background of debate and discussion of abstractions, gained at university. They’re attracted to the site because they can continue that debate for free with like-minded readers. FT readers, on the other hand, are there to glean data. They don’t want to discuss abstractions.