London: Preparing for a fierce battle with The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) over business readers and online advertising revenue, The Financial Times (FT) will give casual readers free access to its website this month, according to executives at the London-based business newspaper.
The website, which currently charges for much of its content online, as of mid-October will allow users to get up to 30 articles per month for free, said John Ridding, chief executive of FT. Anyone who wants to view more online material will have to subscribe to the site.
The shift, part of what Ridding described as a broad overhaul of FT.com that would be phased in over several months, comes as other newspapers are rethinking their efforts to charge users for online content. A surge in online ad spending over the past three years has persuaded many publishers that it is better to increase their Internet audience, in an effort to appeal to advertisers, than trying to squeeze meagre revenue from online subscriptions.
Net value: Publisher of FT.com Ien Cheng says the site can benefit from increased inbound links from other Web drivers.The New York Times (NYT), whose parent company also owns the International Herald Tribune, last month dropped a two-year-old programme under which users had to pay for access to NYT columnists’ work and its archives.
WSJ, which charges readers for most of its online content, is also considering opening its site to all Web users, according to statements by Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., which has agreed to buy the Journal’s owner, Dow Jones & Co.
Ien Cheng, publisher of FT.com, said the paper had decided against a completely free website because it felt that loyal readers, many of whom work in the financial markets or hold high-paying management jobs, would be willing to pay for regular access. Meanwhile, by removing the restrictions for less frequent users, the site can benefit from increased inbound links from blogs, search engines and other drivers of Internet traffic, he said.
FT, which started selling subscriptions to its website in 2002, was already working on the revamp when News Corp. made its $5 billion (Rs19,850 crore) bid for Dow Jones, Ridding said. Murdoch had said he will invest in the WSJ website and international editions, potentially heating up the battle for business readers.
WSJ has nearly one million paying customers of its website, far more than any other newspaper website. NYT had 227,000 paid viewers of TimesSelect, its subscription programme. FT, which is owned by the London-based media company Pearson Plc., has 101,000 Web subscribers. Mint and its website, www.livemint.com, have an exclusive content partnership with WSJ and WSJ.com. FT is an investor in Business Standard.
FT charges $110 in the US and $170 in much of Europe for a one-year Web-only subscription. Ridding said prices would remain the same, even as the subscription model shifts. Under the new system, once users click on five stories in a 30-day period, they will be asked to register with the site. Then, when they hit 30 articles, the site will ask them to subscribe. If they decline, their access will be restricted to the FT.com home pages, until the 30-day period ends.