Of all the newspapers, with all their rhetoric, restructuring, pods, hubs and spokes, The Financial Times has consistently told the best story about how it's reducing reliance on print.
Today Roy has an internal memo from FT editor Lionel Barber outlining yet further changes to the ethos and practices of the organisation, which are mainly designed to reduce costs but also to inspire staff to think more like the product-driven digital startups of Silicon Valley.
Newspaper editors have been saying this since maybe 2008 (see my interview from that year with The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger), and this is the FT renewing its Digital First vows rather than a new direction.
But it does sound like the FT is finally ending the dominance of the print commissioning cycle on the business - on the key hurdles for print legacy businesses building new audiences and revenue streams.
As part of a relaunch in Spring 2014 the FT is:
-- Cutting back to one global print edition (with only minimal local tweaking)
-- The print production team will be reduced and a larger "web/day" production team created
-- Commisioning more "value-added news in context" rather than reactive everyone-else-has-it news
Most newspaper content is commissioned and decided by editors in morning/afternoon conferences - but that doesn't work for an online age. Barber says:
the 1970s-style newspaper publishing process – making incremental changes to multiple editions through the night - is dead. In future, our print product will derive from the web offering - not vice versa.
He makes an interesting comparison to 24-hour news channels, which similarly have to balance pre-planned material with breaking news:
Overall, these changes will mean that much of the newspaper will be pre-planned and produced. Production journalists will publish stories to meet peak viewing times on the web rather than old print deadlines. The process will be akin to a broadcasting schedule. Where once we planned around page lay-outs, we will now adopt a news bulletin-style approach.
The FT, like all morning newspapers, has many staff in its London HQ who work late into the night to prepare the mornings' several editions. But why is that necessary when the print audience is now merely a subset of the wider audience?
Meanwhile, it speaks volumes that the FT is such a big organisation it's planning these relatively minor changes up to six months in advance. How long does it take those Bay Area startups Barber so admires to re-think and re-launch products?
Update: This is a fair interjection from FT commentator John Gapper. Upheld!
@psmith on the six months question, get back to me when Google has made HTML apps such as Google Calendar work properly offline— John Gapper (@johngapper) October 9, 2013
@psmith not an excuse, but people excoriated the NYT for taking so long to launch its metered paywall - turned out it was getting it right— John Gapper (@johngapper) October 9, 2013
Cost management, part 172
Barber points out that FT has "100,000 more digital subscriptions than sales". The FT had more than 600,000 subscribers in H1 2013, half of which are digital.
Single copy sales are however shrinking fast, with 230,000 global sales but only 41,000 full-price daily sales in the UK in August (it's about 100,000 on Saturdays). Here's global circulation decline this year, from ABC:
But despite digital subscription success, the paper announced voluntary redundancies in February and today Barber heavily hints at more cost cutting to come:
...As we move into the next phase of digital first, colleagues need to make informed choices about their careers at the FT and where opportunities lie.
No major news organisation has yet found the right answer to question of how do you take a legacy costbase into a digital age.
But there is an even bigger picture. Revenue, the only metric that really matters, was flat in H1 2013 and newsroom structure and cost management can't affect that.
-- Its purchase of and investment in cutting edge mobile technology products and teams
-- Its marketing operation that sells and renews subscriptions using data and evidence
-- AND its focus on original content are the things that will grow FT Group as a business.
By the way, anyone else remember when various people were convinced Pearson would sell the FT?