FT: 'website won't go completely free'

FT.com’s publisher has insisted that this week’s decision to adopt a new online pricing strategy between free and paid-for online content was not prompted by Rupert Murdoch’s proposals to take The Wall Street Journal free.

Beginning in mid-October, FT.com will give readers free access to 30 stories a month, including some content that is currently behind a pay wall. FT.com, along with financial news rival WSJ.com, is one of the few remaining English-language newspapers with online subscription models. Ien Cheng, FT.com’s publisher and managing editor, told Press Gazette that he plans to continue charging for FT content online.

He said: ‘We can’t force anybody to subscribe to FT.com, but frankly we’re up 10 per cent year on year on subscribers already, and we think that this model is going to accelerate as people get to know our content. We’re very confident that people will say ‘it doesn’t matter what else is out there for free – this is is worth paying for’.”

The site currently claims 101,000 subscribers, who pay up to £199 a year for full access.

The company described the new approach as a ‘third way’model that could allow the FT to increase its reach and advertising revenues among infrequent users, while continuing to focus on a core readership of heavy users who are willing to pay for access.

Under the new model, users who view more than five articles in any 30-day period will be asked to register using their email address.

‘Online, the cost of serving less than ideal customers is very low, so you don’t have to get rid of them. It becomes a marketing channel to get your most ideal customers,’said Cheng.

‘We’ll get a large number of people coming in, and some proportion will register, and some of those that register will subscribe, and so it means that you can grow all of those groups of users faster.”

Following the introduction of the new pricing model later this month, FT.com will gradually add new video, blogging and data features ahead of a full redesign next year.

Among the promised changes are a second weekly video interview, several new blogs by high-profile columnists and better integration of market data with the FT’s journalism, including interactive charting that will allow users to link stock price movements with company news reported.

In its last published ABCe audit in March, FT.com showed a slight year-on-year decline, to 5.35 million monthly unique users, but now claims to have 6.5 million.

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