Ridding, who has worked for the last 30 years in the FT both as editor and head of strategy – in 2003 he directed the launch of the newspaper's edition in Asia – believes that the key is to provide quality information and leave the editors to mark the agenda with their own themes.
Graduated in philosophy, politics and economics by the University of Oxford, Ridding participated yesterday in Enlighted, an event promoted by Fundación Telefónica, IE University and South Summit in Madrid to address the challenges of technology and the transformation of education, where he answered the questions of THE COUNTRY.
Question. In 2014, they ended the year with 500,000 subscribers and today they almost reach one million. What is the key to success?
Answer. This business model requires a very thorough preparation prior to its launch. To be successful, the most important thing is differentiation, to contribute something that motivates the reader to pay for it. People often think that in the case of Financial Times The payment wall is easy because you are mainly going to the business world. It's true, but any publication should be able to differentiate. The differentiation can be given by the brand, the columnists, the analysis angle … I think that many publishers have been reluctant to the subscription payment model, but it is increasingly obvious that there is no choice. Advertising alone can not support quality writing.
P. Can a generalist medium also specialize?
R. The New York Times It's a good example. Your subscription model is very successful. They do a very good job investing in quality journalism and exclusive.
P. In 2007, it was unthinkable for most media to risk closing their online publications and shifting advertising as the main source of income. What obstacles did you find?
R. We saw that the trend of advertising on paper was negative and that we had to find a new source of income. We had full confidence in the quality of our journalism model and we firmly believed that it was worth paying for it. The same thing that was paid for printed journalism had to be paid for online. We feel very safe and the results show that we were right. People value quality journalism, whether printed, online, video or audio.
P. In a scenario where social networks grow that do not filter quality information and spread false news, how should the media deal with it?
R. There is no doubt that the fake news They are a serious problem, not only for readers, but for the entire media industry. They reduce confidence in journalism. The quality of the information, in general terms, is deteriorating. But at the same time I think it is an opportunity for quality media to be differentiated from the rest. Readers want reliable sources and articles written by professional journalists. Sensational stories can be attractive, but in the end the opposite effect occurs and readers come back and value well done journalism.
P. The media invest in new profiles, experts in web positioning, for example. They make an effort so that the news appear well positioned in Google. Does investing in social networks make long-term sense?
R. It is a huge opportunity, never before in the history of humanity had we been able to be read to millions of people through giant search platforms and social networks. The followers of Facebook -2,200 million users- equate to those of Christianity and it has happened in 15 years. The opportunity to reach new audiences is exciting. But you have to be very careful and not base your business model and your fortune on an external platform, which belongs to a third party. In the FT we have been very careful, and we have always made sure that we have a direct relationship with our readers.
We have never let any intermediary interfere because Facebook and Google can change their algorithms and suddenly you lose your readers and your business model suffers. They are very useful tools. We have an agreement with Google and we are working together on subscription techniques based on new technologies. We get many readers through Google searches.
P. What is the average price of the subscription?
R. We have several subscription levels, with different prices. About 450 euros a year the standard and about 675 premium; It varies according to the market. We have registered a very strong growth: today we are very close to our goal, almost one million paying subscribers. It's more than we've recorded in our 130-year history. That idea that people will never pay for journalism on-line It is completely wrong, and we have shown it. A model of quality journalism can lead to a business growth model.
P. What content does the FT offer for free?
R. You can read a certain number of free articles or enjoy a free period of time, it depends on the market. Once concluded, we invite readers to subscribe. The idea is that they read enough articles to realize that it is an interesting journalistic project. We see an exponential growth.
P. Does that strategy work with Millennials?
R. The majority of our readers are over forty years old. I do not agree with the idea that Millennials – born between 1980 and 2000 – do not pay for the contents on-line. Any generation will pay for content that they value. Many of these young people appreciate what we do because it is credible and precise. Seven years ago there was the same dilemma in the mobile industry, there were doubts about the teenagers would pay for the ring tones (songs that are heard while they call you). If you value it, be it journalism or ring tones, they will pay for it.
P. Newspapers whose traffic depends to a large extent on social networks and want to move to the payment wall. Should they do it at once or progressively?
R. With readers, evolution works better than revolution. When you have given them access to information for free, that helps support the advertising model, which is based on traffic. They get used to reading the newspaper and then the subscription arrives. It's a long trip where you have to be accompanied. Shock therapy is usually risky.
P. Is the Branded Content – multimedia content on products of certain brands focused from a journalistic point of view – other sources of income of the FT?
R. It is a growth area with a lot of potential. But, again, we have to be careful because the quality of what we do, the integrity of the contents of the FT is essential and, therefore, we are very aware of our partners to ensure that the quality of the information we generate is up to the task.
P. Within the FT digital strategy, to what extent are traffic data and reading habits taken into account to define the issues?
R. Data has become a fundamental part of our business because it allows us to understand our readers in a deeper way than when they were anonymous on paper. Knowing their reading habits allows us to offer a more personalized and effective product, we provide them with more relevant experiences. But there are limits on how data drives our company. We always make our judgments about which stories are most important and what place they occupy in the pages according to the criteria and specialization of our editors. They use the data, they take it into account, but they are not governed by the data. Our editors mark the agenda.