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Publishers Urged To Charge For Web Content

March 5, 2011

The Financial Times website’s managing director on Thursday said other publishers should charge for online content, adding that his outlet has more than 200,000 digital subscribers.

Rob Grimshaw said the Financial Times circulates about 400,000 print copies and has 207,000 subscribers for its online edition. “As a publication we’re halfway to replicating our paying print audience in digital and that’s a really big deal for our business overall,” he told a panel discussion at the paidContent 2011 conference in New York.

While digital subscribers can view all Financial Times content online, the FT.com site also has 3 million registered users who can view up to 10 articles per month before being asked to subscribe, he added.

Many online publishers fear that charging for their online content will result in a significant loss of traffic and online advertising revenue.

Grimshaw addressed those fears by saying: “Our digital revenues from subscriptions increased by over 50 percent year over year.” And, we have “found with this model that there really isn’t a trade-off between advertising and subscription because our advertising revenues online also grew by double digits,” he said.

The key to charging for online content is “quality and differentiation,” said Grimshaw. “If you’ve got quality in your content, if you’ve got uniqueness, if it can’t be found anywhere else, then you have an opportunity to charge for that content.”

“Go for it… Use the ability of the channel to test and experiment and find the thing that works for you as a publisher,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal currently charges for full access to its site and the New York Times said this week it plans to begin charging at its website soon.

Atlantic Media Co. President Justin Smith told the panel that charging for content works better with financial news outlets like FT and WSJ, than with other news outlets. “These are very distinct, niche markets with expensive content that’s hard to produce,” he said.

People are unlikely to pay for other content, including his own company’s respected magazine The Atlantic, said Smith.

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