A milestone reached as the world of old media continues its push in a digital direction: the storied, pink-sheeted daily newspaper the Financial Times, read by 2.1 million readers daily, today said digital subscribers now outnumber those in print, and that digital revenues now account for half of all sales in the FT Group. And what’s more, sales actually grew rather than declined.
The FT says that digital subscriptions grew by 31%, and now number over 300,000, while print subscriptions are now at 299,000. The digital portion is outpacing overall growth by quite some way: the FT’s total paid subscriber base (both print and online) is now at 599,000, and grew by only 2% on last year. Overall sales at the company for the first six months of 2012 were £216 million ($339 million), compared to $203 for the period a year ago, growth of 6%.
The numbers were revealed by Pearson, the FT’s owner, while reporting half-year results. Pearson also noted that it is on track for digital to make up half of all sales this year.
What’s also important to note is that all these digital moves are not just being made to offset a decline in print readers, but also another decline that comes as a consequence of that: in advertising. The FT noted that growth online and in luxury and personal finance “more than offsetting” declines in trade and recruitment. “Advertising demand remains volatile and visibility poor,” it noted.
The positive numbers are a pointer to how the FT’s freemium model, mixing limited free content with tiers of wider content access for those willing to pay, can work (those tiers are here; in the UK they are £5.19 or £6.79 per week). The lowest tier in that model is, predictably, the most popular at the moment: registered site users — you can register on FT.com for a limited amount of free content monthly — were up by 26% to 4.8 million.
Mobile has become a significant part of the FT’s business overall: a full 25% of all FT.com traffic is now coming from mobile devices, the company said — a signal, if one was needed, for any other newspaper or magazine that targets a similar demographic of largely professional readers.
The FT’s big bet on making a iOS-optimized web app — created last year in a gesture against Apple and its in-app subscription commission — is also paying off. It now has 2.7 million users accessing the site through its web app, a combination of users registering for free, limited access and paying subscribers.
The FT in January this year bought Assanka, the maker of that iOS-optimized web app, and they have been hard at work on extending the proposition to other platforms. It now also has a web app on Chrome for Android and a Windows 8 web app.
Content revenues now make up 61% of the company’s business, although the FT has been developing other digital initiatives. These include streaming of live events, as well as more big data/tech plays. One of these is called GatekeeperIQ, which is a subscription-based service to track large, retailer investment platforms.