Background and Challenge

Subscription revenue versus advertising revenue

From as early as the late 1800s to the 1980s, national newspapers could comfortably count on paid subscribers in the tens of millions. Today, of course, the Internet is generally regarded as the ultimate source for news. And, lots of that meaty digital news is accessible without a subscription fee. This has led to a business model evolution: instead of making money predominantly from subscriptions, most publications today earn the majority of their revenue through advertising. As a result, consumers have been conditioned away from paying for their news content. This has been evident between 2006 and 2014, when the industry lost approximately 30 billion dollars in print advertising (source: Pew Research, 2015).

And yet, there are still a few dwindling publications - the Financial Times (FT) being one - that stand firm on the idea that their content is worthy of a paywall and are attempting to make significant revenue through a paid subscription model.

$1,100 versus free

The FT has long been compulsory reading for anyone with a hand in finance. Prior to 1996, the publication operated as a print-only global newspaper circulated across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Today, of its 747,000 subscribers that pay up to $1,100 to access content, more than 70% are digital-only, generating revenues >$120M annually.

In order to maintain their growth through digital channels, as well as keep the ad vs. subscription revenue stream on an even keel, the FT tasked us with unlocking new subscribers targeting a previously untapped channels. They set their sights on a younger, international, connected audience with broad media-consumption habits. This meant directly challenging a new competitive set of quality news outlets outside of finance — many of which are free to read.

Shifting perceptions

But it wasn’t just price that was the problem. In order to connect with the potential subscriber base, we would need to shift their completely unfounded, yet existing, perception that the FT has an old school and/or industry specialist air about it.

But how could the FT win over an entirely new audience and convince them to pay an annual subscription fee in this age of predominantly free content, especially when audience insights showed that the FT and its content feels inaccessible and only appropriate for financial experts?