May 06, 2013

Mobile and The Financial Times

The Financial Times (NewsAlert) has been astute in its investment in mobile, as it is a key driver of growth for the publication. One-third of the website’s traffic stems from mobile activity and accounts for 15 percent of its digital subscriptions.

Rob Grimshaw, FT’s managing director, saw into the future it seemed, when in August 2011 he predicted that “within three years, we will have more than half of our digital access through mobile devices."

In June 2011, the publication launched its HTML5 Web app. Last April, the company relaunched the app to sport a more stripped-down design, added video content and slideshows, and enabled readers to switch between a static “morning edition” that matches the newspaper, and a dynamic version that updates 24/7.

FT also pumped the revitalized app with more personalization features. Its “My FT” section now lists recommendations for articles based on each reader’s browsing history.

When asked about his 2011 prediction, Grimshaw says his estimate appears conservative in hindsight, and notes that “34 percent of [FT’s] traffic overall is coming on mobile devices, and for subscribers it’s rather higher.”

"The investment and time we have put into mobile is really paying off. The audience is clearly moving to mobile, and we need to be where the audience is.”

Grimshaw adds that 15-20 percent of new subscriptions each week are being sold on a mobile device and that 12 percent of the FT’s digital advertising revenue currently come from mobile devices. "We would like that to be higher, but it’s substantially above the industry average," he says. “From the very early days, we’ve noticed that people like this sense of a finite read. Completion is a big thing for people, and in common with most publishers, we’re not great at giving people a sense of completion with our desktop experience.”

The Financial Times has a strict "quality rather than quantity" outlook when it comes to the digital advertising market, with Grimshaw saying the company offers innovation around ad formats, targeting and analytics to get advertisers to pay a premium to advertise on and in its app.

Grimshaw reasons that that the outlook for paid content is brighter than ever.

“This has been a really interesting space to watch over time. Before we launched a paywall, everyone said nobody can do it. Then they said ‘nobody can do it but you’. Then mobile came along, and they said ‘can you do it in mobile?’, and now the Washington Post and The Sun are launching pay models,” he says.

“People are finally coming to the conclusion that you can do it. I think there will be free models in the world, but to do it you either have to have massive scale – scale that is beyond the reach of most publishers – or you have to have a very different-looking operation which is extremely lean.”

Grimshaw notes that Buzzfeed and Quartz are doing a great job with mobile, and encourages people to “look at the science behind it.”

"I challenge anyone to tell the difference between our HTML5 app and a native app. There is no drawback to working in HTML5, and there are lots of advantages," he says. "Anybody that’s chosen to develop native apps in parallel [for different platforms] is now really struggling with the overhead of maintaining and developing them. Most of the savvy developers have switched to HTML5, even if they’re still delivering those apps in a native wrapper. I don’t think it will be long before a lot of those apps start emerging as pure HTML5 apps in browsers."

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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