I was at Business Insider's Ignition conference yesterday, where by far the most interesting panel was Gordon Crovitz's with Rob Grimshaw from the Financial Times and Chris Mayer from the Boston Globe.
Crovitz, who knows a lot about the paid content biz from his days as the piblisher of the Wall Street Journal, gave Grimshaw the floor to explain the FT.com's ground-breaking efforts to recover the initiative online and in mobile for paid content. It's a great story.
The FT.com has a "metered" access model, which is what the NYT and others have has adoped as well, and the results are very, very impressive. The metered model allows limited free access and tiers of pricing based on how much journalism and what devices (phone, tablet) the consumers wishes to use.
The first great number Grimshaw through out was "registered" users -- the first step to complete, paid access on the FT.com. The paper has 4.5 million registered users -- basically folks who have created a free account to get deeper access to the site. Grimshaw said the FT markets paid subs to those members, and they help drive traffic, which is all good. This emerging model is not about paid or not paid, it's about a tiered model that balances sub revenue, readership and advertising.
The next big revelation was the number of paid digital subs. Grimshaw put the number at 250,000, which is starting to close in on the 350,000 print subs. Like many other participants at the conference, Grimshaw noted that consumption of the FT in mobile and tablets was accelerating far faster than anyone anticipated. Makes me wonder how soon a major paper like the FT will be all digital all the time.
That brings to the most important part of Grimshaw's story: the FT and the iPad. About six months ago the FT launched on the iPad OUTSIDE the AppStore. You can download something that looks just like an app to the iPad from the FT.com, and it's on a subscription basis, but it's not sold through the appstore. Apple does not get its 30%, and the FT keeps all the customer data. It's built in HTML5 and works through a browser, which is sort of hidden from the experience. It feels like an app. Grimshaw said in an understated way that Apple's business model did not make sense for the FT so they decided to go rogue.
The obvious question: is there life outside the app store? Apparently there is, especially if you already have a big audience available online and through email. Grimshaw addressed this: The app has seen 1 million visits (not sure what that means exactly) in six months, which is more than their comparable apps on iPhones/iPad in the prceeding 18 months. In other words, they did not lose out by being buried or featured in the appstore. In fact, it looks like a brilliant success.
And where traffic is concerned, the iPad app has produced a 50% increase in traffic -- again not exactly sure what that means -- 50% growth in overall mobile traffic or 50% growth in total online/mobile traffic. Either way, it's impressive.
From a consumer standpoint, the FT on the iPad has clear usage patterns. People read more and stay engaged longer with longer pieces. It's wildy different from the quick dip reading sessions that publishers see on most media websites. The big usage times are early morning and late evening. Clearly, the iPad/tablet fills the gap that laptops/desktops left int he media world: a dital device that encourage longform reading in postures and places not suitable for those "traditional" form factors. Grimshaw said editors are now thinking about how to map their efforts and story types (long vs. short) to those patterns.
This was a great session and should stiffen the spine of publshers who wonder how they will ever recover their business mojo in a post-print world.