The fact that it’s a public company gives the public at least a chance to back into some hard numbers. I was able, for instance, to do a back-of-the-envelope calculations based on public filings that showed digital subscriptions brought in about $70 million last year, not including corporate subscriptions, out of total subscription revenue of $269 million for the paper. Overall revenue for the paper isn’t specified, but it’s part of Pearson’s FT Group, which also includes a merger newsletter business and a 50 percent stake in the Economist and had revenue of about $670 million.

Lauren Indvik on Mashable interviews FT Group CEO John Ridding, who discusses how the company uses information provided by customers to boost digital ad sales. One of the under-appreciated attributes of paywalls is that they lay the groundwork for a more intimate relationship with customers—a relationship that can then be sold to advertisers. There are problems with this surveillance model, as it’s sometimes described, but if the big players are going to do it, newspapers probably need to, too.


Ridding says the data-driven approach is transforming its marketing and advertising, too. The data collected from registrants allows advertisers to target campaigns to, say, executives in the U.S. aerospace industry, or HR department heads in India.

And, this sounds lucrative, or creepy, depending on your mood:

Added to this is a proprietary reporting tool called Deep View, which offers “the most” insight into advertising campaigns and how they perform compared to its competitors’, the FT says. (One media buying manager we spoke to confirmed this assessment, noting it is only available for direct, and not programmatic, ad buys.) During and after campaigns, advertisers can see who has seen or clicked on a campaign, and the optional placement and time of days to run the ads, “giving them the option to reassess mid-campaign, switch creative and retarget,” a spokesperson explains.

Sadly few figures are provided here, either.

The good news is that, according to public filings, overall revenue in the group since 2008 (which, again, includes sizable non-FT units) was up 13.6 percent at the end of last year, to about $669 million (£443 million), while profitability (after accounting for the sale of a unit) is more or less steady, at about $74 million (£49 million).

On the other hand, Ridding tells us, overall ads (print and digital) now make up only 39 percent of the FT Group’s revenue, as opposed to 52 percent in 2008.

So what we do know is that, even with “Deep View” and everything else the FT is able to sell to advertisers, the real growth is coming from digital subscriptions, not digital ads.

And what we don’t know about digital ads’ performance and prospects is a lot.


Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.