Digital Publishing Reader Revenue
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Financial Times’ subscriber strategies to “catch ’em young”

As publishers continue to fine-tune their digital strategies to create sustainable revenue models, some have been turning their focus to younger demographics to future proof their solutions.

Media companies are concerned about their age profile across print and digital. The fear is young people aren’t going to grow into the tradition of subscribing. There’s a huge battle at the quality end of the market and an intense push for the same people. Everyone is aware of how important that (18-24-year-old) group of the next leaders is. The difficulty is the intense competition in the market and the price points.

Nic Newman, Editor, Reuters Institute Digital News Report

Some publishers, including The Economist, The Telegraph and The Financial Times have seen success in implementing specific strategies to attract young audiences.

The Telegraph redesigned its newspaper’s app with a younger audience in mind when they introduced the paywall in 2016. Before the introduction of the paywall, the publisher targeted an audience of over 35; afterward, it witnessed the 18-34 years segment become the fastest growing. According to Chief Customer Officer Robert Bridge, the app drives the highest conversion rate of readers to subscribers.

The Economist has been running specific campaigns targeting students. In September 2017, it launched a content-led marketing campaign on the future of work along with events at universities. Visitors to the future of work content hub were targeted with ads about the publisher’s subscription offer, designed for that demographic. They featured consistent creative, design and copy, including phrases that the demographic can relate to such as the campaign tagline “Some trends need more than a hashtag”.

“The focus should be on how to reach to loyal communities willing to pay for content. A loyalty that may seem even harder to gain from young people. Are they truly willing to pay for content? They pay for Spotify and Netflix. They really value quality. But they have to trust your newspaper,” says WAN-IFRA’s Chief Operating Officer, Thomas Jacob.

Building trust—and its extension, loyalty—is probably among the reasons why The Financial Times has established a long-term free FT for schools program. The program has been designed to help students contextualize their school curriculum with relevant news articles on the FT. Students can create their own accounts and receive weekly email newsletters, curated by the publisher’s Global Education Editor, Andrew Jack. The idea is to get school kids to regularly sample its content so that later on they are more likely to look out for FT content and be willing to pay for it as well.  

It’s vitally important for the FT to engage with new audiences at all points on the age spectrum, but particularly at the younger end. We think the FT provides a really important, helpful tool to help young people navigate the world they live in, and help with their studies. And we hope in doing that we are also building the paying reader of the future.

Jon Slade, Chief Commercial Officer, The Financial Times

Apparently, the idea was prompted by a teenager. According to Slade, sometime in 2017, a 16-year-old boy who had been at FT’s office in London on work experience told him that the FT was doing it wrong. He suggested that the publisher should make its content free to access for all students and send them the most relevant news based on what’s in the school curriculum. And that they could do this with the support of a sponsor.

Slade saw value in the idea and within two weeks the FT had over 16,000 students and teachers from more than 1,500 schools in the U.K. enrolled in the free access program with Lloyds Bank as a sponsor. In January 2018, the publisher expanded the initiative internationally. Currently, the program has 2,300 schools signed up from all over the world. Out of these, over 1,700 are in the U.K. and about 100 in the U.S. Schools from countries like China, where English is a second language, have also enrolled in the program.

Echoing WAN-IFRA’s Jacob, Slade says that the younger generations’ respect for quality media is one of the reasons why he feels more buoyant about the future of publisher business models than he used to. “There’s a confidence that comes with that age group that forces you to get rid of the clutter that can crowd your day-to-day vision and gives a different perspective. They value quality news more than they’re given credit for.”

According to the FT,  over the last year, around 34,000 accounts have been created and over a million pages accessed by students and teachers through the program.

Historically, the FT has been perceived as (having) an older audience already in working life or advanced education. But this is important in terms of thinking about our future readers, and with the wider debate around fake news and poor quality information so readily available, we feel providing high-quality information to that next generation is very important.

Andrew Jack, Global Education Editor, The Financial Times

To ensure students make the most of the program, the FT has also built relationships with teachers. It sends a weekly email newsletter to the 20,000 teachers that have signed up till date. The newsletters contain content on economics, politics, global affairs, and culture. They also contain suggested questions as lesson-planning aids. “They (the teachers) know what is useful and what resonates; they contact me with articles they want shared,” says Jack.

To make the experience more interactive and engaging, the FT also runs multiple-choice quizzes and writing competitions for the students. Winners get their articles published on as well as tickets to major annual events hosted by the FT and its partners which include Bank of England, Chatham House, and World Bank.

The publisher has a strong base of nearly a million subscribers; to sustain and grow that it has to look at the future generation of paying customers. According to Greg Harwood, Director of strategy and marketing consultancy, Simon-Kucher & Partners, “By engaging with the younger generations, introducing them to the brand from a young age, creating the habit and building up the longer-term relationship The Financial Times will look to coach the individuals through their life cycle and eventually migrate them up to being fully paid subscribers.”