Media Perspective: How the Financial Times is blazing an online content trail

It's rare to find upbeat newspaper executives right now. But last week the Financial Times' Jon Slade, who is responsible for FT.com's revenues as well as the FT's strategic sales unit, and his boss, the global commercial director, Ben Hughes, were positively chirpy when I met them at the FT's Southwark Bridge HQ.

FT.com is doing well. It is responsible for 21 per cent of the FT's ad revenue and has 1.6 million registered users globally, 121,000 of whom pay for content (a paywall kicks in should you wish to view more than ten articles per month). And it both lives a life of its own while helping to establish the FT as a global brand. To demonstrate this, Slade likes to tell the story of an e-mail received by the editor of FT.com from a reader in Texas advising him to launch a newspaper because his website was so good.

Earlier this month, the FT.com offer was boosted with the launch of an online version of its magazine, How To Spend It (www.howtospendit.com). The content is all about luxury, style and high-end fashion. The magazine supplement celebrates its 15th anniversary this year and the online version, created by Razorfish, has taken six months to build, has dedicated content and uses Flash 10 to provide the most up-to-date formats for both editorial and advertising.

And advertisers seem to be piling in. The FT says that its start-up costs have already been met by deals with advertisers such as Rolex and Krug. The Champagne-maker is supporting a nifty idea called the "mind share" auction, which offers readers the chance to bid to spend an hour with the "world's greatest minds". Among these great minds is Stephen Woodford (who happens to run the FT's agency, DDB London). So get bidding.

The online version of How To Spend It is free to access for the time being, but Hughes and Slade admit that the FT will consider charging for it in future. Whatever the business model, it stands out as premium, highly targeted editorial launched during a difficult time.

The FT is not alone in providing this. Tyler Brule's Monocle is winning plaudits as a magazine and for building a clever commercial model around subscriptions and retail manifestations of the brand - Monocle cycle, priced £750 anyone? But How To Spend It is a strong product online and it will be interesting to see how luxury publishers such as Conde Nast and NatMag respond.

In the newspaper world, the FT's relative success online can be explained because it offers niche content that has scale because it's global. It's not stuff that can be found for free on the BBC website so a proportion of readers are willing to pay for it. How other newspapers must wish they were providing similar content online.

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