BCN caught up with Christy Ross, Head of Application and Publishing Services, Technology at the Financial Times, to get some insight into the company’s approach to digital publishing, mobile apps and the cloud.
BCN: From a digital perspective, what is the FT currently focussed on?
Christy Ross: Print has been written off for years now, no pun intended, but we’re still doing very well. However our main interest these days — rather than investing in print product – is in looking at how we can identify and supply other means of content delivery and then to actually make some money from that. Over the past few years we’ve done things to help us to maintain a direct relationship with our subscribers, such as building our own web app rather than place anything on the Apple Store or Play Store.
We have also done a lot around building APIs, so that we can provide distinct feeds of information to businesses, enabling them to come to us and say, ‘we are particualrly interested in these areas of news, or analysis, and will pay you for that’. Of course we’ve also seen mobile take off massively, so probably over 50% of our new subscription revenue comes from mobile, rather than fromm the browser or tablets.
Why is the FT able to be so confident when asking for revenue from its readers?
We’ve been quite lucky. We were one of if not the first UK newspaper to introduce a paywall. A lot has been made of the fact that paywalls ‘don’t work,’ and we’ve seen a number of other daily national papers put them up and pull them back down again, but we are very wedded to ours.
That’s because we are a niche product. If you like, we’re ‘the business world’s second newspaper.’ So in the UK someone will have, say, their Times or the Telegraph (or in the US they’ll have the Washington Post or the New York Times), but then their second newspaper will be the Financial Times. You can’t get our content anywhere else, particularly not the analysis we provide. While we are interested in breaking news and do follow it, our key differetnaitor is analysis and that comment of what is going on in the world and what it means long term. People aree able to use these insights in their business decisions – and people are prepared to pay for that.
Is there anything unique about your current mobile application in itself?
At the end of the day we are a content provider. It’s about getting the content out as quickly as we can, and providing the tools to our editorial users so they can concentrate on writing and not worry so much about layout – we’re doing a lot more about templating, metadata, and making our content much richer, so that, when a reader comes on, the acutal related stories mean something to them, and it’s easier for them to navigate through our considerable archive on the same poeople and companies, and be able to form a much more rounded opinion.
What about internal technical innvoation?
We’ve built our own private cloud, and we’re also heavily investigating and starting to use AWS, so doing a lot out there to support the public cloud. One of our strategy points is that any new applcaition or new functionality that we look to bring online, we have to start by looking on the public cloud to see if we can host and proivide it on that, and there has to be a very good technical reason for not doing it. We’re pushing it much more that way.
We have also borrrowed a concept from Netflix, their Chaos Monkey appraoch, where every now and then we deliberately break parts of our estate to see how resilient applications are, and to see how we can react to some of our applications not being available and what that means to our user base. Just a a couple of weekends ago we completely turned off one of our UK data centres, where we’d put most of our publishing and membership applciations in advance, to see what it did, and also to see whether we could bring up the applications in our other data centres – to see how long it took us and what it meant for things like our recovery time objectives.
Christy Ross will be appearing at Apps World Europe (18- 19 November, Excel, London)