(L-R: Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Evgeny Lebedev, Noel Penzer, John Ridding on a panel at #FTDigital12. pic by @FTDigitalMedia)
How's this for a tipping point? The Financial Times Loading... is now on the verge of making more money from content sales than from advertising:
FT CEO John Ridding: "It could be this year for the 1st time in 124 yrs that our content revenues overtake advertising revenues" #ftmedia12— Patrick Smith (@psmith) March 7, 2012
Speaking at the FT's own Digital Media Conference in London on Wednesday, FT Group CEO John Ridding told delegates that double digital content revenue growth means that its paywalled content sales drive may eclipse ad sale income this year.
He described the strategy as "essentially platform neutral, device-driven and paid for" - which as most people in the industry might agree, is a nice place to be. Which may be why owner Pearson was keen to pour water on rumours that the FT is for sale.
But from an FT Group perspective the pink'un newspaper has some catching up to do on the paid content revenue ratio: its parent division made 58 percent of its £427 million revenue from content sales in 2011. Overall profits were up 17 percent on an underlying basis to £76 million in the same period (full results here).
But that shift away from advertising has long been coming. The FT Group pulls no punches in declaring that "advertising was generally weak and volatile with poor visibility".
While at the same time, online subscriptions were up 29 percent to 267,000 last year - crucially including another 2,000 corporate subs - with online subscriptions beating print subscriptions in the US for the first time.
Mobile is key
And what's made all this possible? In word, mobile - or rather, the ability to quickly and easily acquire subscribers via tablets and smartphones, with 70 percent growth on mobile platforms in the past 12 months.
"Mobile is a complete game changer," says Ridding. "If you're a global publisher you reach economies of subscale through having to reach so many territories. Now we can reach all our markets internationally at zero cost.
"I've just come back from the US which is our biggest emerging market - the audience potential is huge. But flying newspapers around the Midwest is expensive. Now we don't have to."
Ridding admits he had early misgivings over whether people would want to read something long-form and cerebral like the FT's economics columnist Martin Wolf Loading... on a smartphone. "The answer is that they do," he says. As the moderator quipped, whether they understand him is quite another matter.
But he's keen to stress it's not just about content sales, claiming that "premium spots on FT.com compare favourably with a similar premium spot in the FT newspaper for the same volume of audience."
As paywalled sites' managers never tire of saying, a paying audience is a more engaged audience that can make targeted ads more effective.
"This point about being able to target ads ... At the moment if you're a marketing director you have to prove ROI in a way you didn't before. Now you can prove very clearly who is reading what - you can prove the efficiency of a campaign.
"The real power is in data... we're moving from the dark ages where people would walk into a newsagents and we wouldn't know them but now we know pretty much everything about them."
If you liked this article you can sign up to receive free weekly newsletters from the site by clicking here