End of paid-for content edges closer as FT.com makes changes

LONDON - The end of paid-for content has moved a step closer, as the FT.com revealed a change to its charging model, which will now see some articles freely available.

The move follows the announcement last month by the New York Times that it will end subscription charges for its website.

In August, News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, had said that he was considering ending subscription charges on The Wall Street Journal website when he takes control of parent company Dow Jones.

Any change at its online financial rival would likely force the Financial Times to respond.

However, instead of giving all of its content away for free, the FT.com will allow a limited amount of free access. Owner Pearson has announced the changes as part of a major expansion of the site.

Ien Cheng, publisher of FT.com said the changes to the site will start from mid-October and will allow FT.com users to read articles and access data for up to a maximum of 30 views a month. After those 30 free page views, users would be asked to subscribe.

After 30 articles, readers who want unlimited access have an option of standard or premium subscription at costs £99 or £199 annually. Premium subscribers will have exclusive access to Lex content, which now has additional online articles and more functionality, and a new FT Mobile News Reader application which provides optimised mobile phone access to FT content. 

Cheng said that the change would allow bloggers and news aggregation sites to link to content, which had only previously been available to subscribers.

Cheng said: "The figure of 30 is not random. We have studied carefully how people come to the site. We have always believed that the journalism we produce is worth something to our core users. This new model allows us to keep to that principle while making sure that our material is also made freer to the web universe."

This middle ground will allow FT.com to hang on to some subscription revenue, while driving traffic to the site via the bloggers and news aggregators. However, it could still lose out on advertising, as its page views and unique user numbers will remain lower than some free-to-access rivals.

As well as the change to the subscription model, fresh investment will see the addition of a new markets section, more of its 'View from the Top' video interviews, and more bloggers.

As well as more content, there will be further technical development of the site to make it faster for users to access the information that they are looking for.

John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times, said: "The FT has posted consistently strong revenue growth over recent years and continues to achieve healthy growth in audiences in print and online. We see significant potential in the expansion of FT.com, which provides an efficient means of reaching and interacting with our global audience. This new model is innovative and flexible – and will broaden our reach. We believe many FT.com users, drawn by these changes and the quality of our journalism, will become regular and dedicated FT users and join the ranks of our existing subscribers."

Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, added: "There is increasing demand for quality, independent global business news and analysis – as demonstrated by increases in readership we have been seeing. FT.com represents an increasingly powerful expression of FT journalism, and will be further strengthened by the enhancements we will be launching over the coming weeks."

When the NYTimes.com announced it was ending its subscription model, it said it was doing so as the "online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism".

Murdoch's thinking when he mooted possible future change at the WSJ.com was that any lost subscription revenues could be recouped by a massive increase in online ads, backed by a huge expansion in readership.

He said: "It would be an expensive thing to do in the short term [but] in the long term, it may be a wonderful thing to do."

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