The paywall debate: At the Financial Times there is no debate, it works

Wherever you stand on the great paywall debate, you can’t argue with the fact that one UK national newspaper publisher has proved that a paywall can work.

Figures released by the Financial Times yesterday revealed that it now has 149,000 paying digital subscribers. That’s nearly double the UK paid-for sale of the print edition.

Whereas Rupert Murdoch has gone for the all-or-nothing gambit of putting nearly every word of The Times and Sunday Times behind a paywall. The FT has gone for a more nuanced approach.

The current offer is ten articles a month for free if you are a registered reader, or else £3.79 a week for limited access and £5.49 a week for full access.

Having said that, the FT seems to be pretty liberal when it comes to letting in readers via Google. As an experiment I just clicked on seven articles found via the search engine before being asked to register, I then closed down my browser – re-opened it and opened another seven different pieces.

The beauty of the FT’s system is that it keeps reminding casual readers it is there by remaining part of the web ecosystem while forcing those who become devoted readers to cough up some money.

Obviously it is helped by the fact that it is a specialist site and people will always spend money to make money.

But it is also a much better website than The Times (that’s mainly a judgement on the way the content is delivered rather than the content itself). Subscribers get a lot more added value for signing up to the FT than they do as yet from The Times, including emails, an exclusive newsletter from the editor and specialist company financial information. Later this year it is launching FT Tilt as a new subscriber-only service offering a similar blend of news and analysis to its award-winning FT Alphaville blog.

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