BtoB's Rob Grimshaw on paid content play

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The recession sounded a wake-up call for media companies on the importance of pursuing paid content. Facing dramatic declines in their advertising revenues, many redoubled their attempts to monetize online readers directly. For those just getting started, Financial Times is a beacon, one of the few business newspapers to show success in this conversion. has 2.2 million registered users and more than 126,000 digital subscribers. Next month, in fact, is scheduled to add a micropayment model through PayPal to its existing subscription model. Digital Directions recently asked Rob Grimshaw, managing director of, about content monetization.

Digital Directions: In a tough economic environment, has done very well. What numbers can you share?

Grimshaw:Revenue growth specifically online is up 43% year on year, and we increased the number of digital subscribers to FT by 15%, to over 126,000. Fueling those increases has been a shift in our overall strategic direction to generate a lot more revenue from our content. The biggest thing we learned as we've done this is how powerful our direct relationship with our users is.

DD: You are continually tweaking your online subscription model, most recently with the announcement of micropayments. When will we see them?

Grimshaw:Actually, we'll have a soft launch in the back end of this month. We'll do some testing behind the scenes, and at some point in May, we'll go fully live with a micropayment day pass on We think this will open up a whole new market of people who are quite willing to pay for content but not willing to buy an annual subscription. ... We need to give those people an option.

DD: You now have more than 2.2 million registered users on That is more than 17 times the number of your digital subscribers, which is a north of 126,000. What is the impact?

Grimshaw:It has taken us about two and a half years to build up to 2.2 million registered users, and we add over 30,000 registered users a week on a regular basis. There's no great resistance to registration because people seem to understand the exchange of personal information for valuable content.

We fundamentally reoriented our focus to use the knowledge we have about our registered users to power our marketing. These are people who have stuck up their hands and said they are interested in Financial Times journalism. We have their e-mail addresses to contact them and we understand how they interact with our content. This is marketing gold dust. We are able to pick out those registered users who are most likely to subscribe and target them immediately with a subscription offer and convert them.

On the operational side, the expansion of our capabilities with data has been transformational. As we have invested in data management and analytics, there has been an impact on our business on multiple levels—from marketing and product developing to micro-segmenting audiences for advertisers. As a result, we've seen enormous gains in efficiency in all of those areas.

DD: You say the registered users are “gold dust” for FT's marketers, but don't they also help you sell advertising?

Grimshaw:We've found that by pushing the registration and subscription sides, and building a direct relationship with the audience, we've created a differentiated advertising proposition. What advertisers actually want is greater insight into the audience. When we provide that, along with greater engagement with known users, we can charge higher advertising rates.

DD: What are your expectations for the application you're about to launch for Apple's iPad?

Grimshaw:The possibilities for rendering FT content on this new platform are just fantastic. Our iPhone application has been a runaway success with more than 250,000 downloads, so I have high hopes for our iPad version. Like other Apple devices, the iPad will spawn a whole category of devices and they may provide big opportunities for publishers and content distribution.

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