I attended a very interesting event this morning where Rob Grimshaw, MD FT.com, shared some details of their current mobile and technology strategies. I’ve known the FT.com mobile team for many years and they’ve always been ahead of the game when it comes to new formats and paying for content. (I’ve always kept a close eye on them as advising media owners is a large part of the consulting work I do.) Some argue that it’s because they have a niche that they’re successful. Others think that it’s because they deal with financial information specifically. it could be said that their audience is particularly tech-savvy having a higher than average income and fond of their new gadgets. I’m sure that some or all of those will play their part. Rob was asked about why other newspapers are trailing behind when it comes to technology and he felt it was as much to do with confidence and culture change rather than anything to do with technology. Maybe that’s easy for him to say since they have a long heritage in offering digital services and so have probably been through that culture change some time ago. That said, the confidence is a different matter. Rob cited The New York Times as a paywall success story as it now has more digital subscribers than print ones in just 12 months. Not bad going. I guess the point is that if your customers wouldn’t pay for your content, maybe it’s not good enough anyway. Or the flipside of that is if your content is good, then your customers will pay for it. Glass half-empty vs. glass half-full.
Grimshaw tell us other newspapers may be struggling as it’s more to do with confidence in your offering and thinking about culture change rather than technology change. There was a lot to take in, but since it was partly a press event, there were some journalists there who took more notes than I did. Well worth a read.
There were a couple of other points that I found particularly pertinent. Firstly, it was recently reported by New Media Age that FT.com reckons 60% of its revenues will come from mobile by 2020 and Rob confirmed this figure at the session. This is probably just as well since it’s expected that print newspapers will be irrelevant in the UK by 2019 [links to a pdf]. Rob also went on to say that he wasn’t sure how much of a business they would have in print circulation in 10 or 20 years time (cost vs. reward being the issue alongside declining overall print readership in news generally). If that’s the case, then I wonder if that figure is too conservative. Friend and colleague, Russell Buckley, certainly seems to think so and I have to agree with him. His article explaining why its too low is well worth a read.
The other interesting point was about Google+. It’s often dismissed as a desperate attempt by Google to join the Social Media Revolution. But maybe it has legs? Social Media is as important as mobile to FT.com and often comes hand in hand. FT.com amassed 500,000 followers on their G+ page in just six months and currently standing at over 860,000 at the time of writing. This compares very favourably with their current Facebook Page following of 325,000 and FT.com’s Twitter followers numbering 668,000 over a longer period of time. Is this simply down to the power of the suggested user functionality on G+ or are G+ members avid newsreaders? I don’t know. It’s worth further investigation I guess.
And finally, on technology and platforms and tablets… HTML5 is at the core of the company’s products. By building in HTML5, it means that for both Android and Windows 8, 90% of the code is written so making the native app isn’t so arduous. There was also a big thumbs for Windows 8 by Rob. He feels that the tablet space is still in its infancy and that there is scope for there to be 2 or 3 strong players in the sector. Although Apple currently has this sewn up with the iPad, Rob thinks the Windows 8 launch towards the end of the year will be very interesting. This is because Microsoft has put thought into the relationship between the tablet and the desktop and built that into the design and UI. I must admit, I have a tablet with Windows 8 installed on it and I like it. It feels more grown up than the iPad somehow, and certainly you can have more clout when it comes to memory and speed as there will be more choice with specs. And actually, more consumer choice is a good thing overall. One device does not fit all no matter what the Apple fan boyz and girlz say.
A lot more was covered in the session – APIs, internet TV, new advertising formats and more - which, happily for you dear reader, two journalists attending wrote up. Links below for you.