The Customer Effect

Why The Financial Times’ newsletters aren’t for everyone

  • The FT has launched 12 newsletters in the past two years.
  • Each newsletter is growing by a single digit percentage per month in net new signups.
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Why The Financial Times’ newsletters aren’t for everyone

By Lucia Moses

The Financial Times is unusual among news publishers for its reliance on subscriber revenue; it makes more than half of its money this way. The FT’s email newsletters are particularly aimed at retaining and upselling its subscribers, who can pay a rich $249 a year for standard digital and up to $612 a year for premium print plus digital.

“There was always a sense of bringing in new readers,” said Andrew Jack, head of curated content at the FT. “But premium is a real area of focus. We’ve redoubled around premium to get people to upgrade.” To that end, the FT is launching a new newsletter for premium subscribers on Monday. Called Authers’ Note, it’ll feature a daily briefing by senior investment commentator John Authers on Wall Street after the closing bell.

Jack leads a staff of five devoted full-time to newsletters; editorial staffers at various news desks handle much of the daily newsletter writing. Eight other newsletters, including Best of Lex, Brexit Briefing and Opening Quote, are available only to standard or premium subscribers. Another nine are available to non-paying but registered users.

The FT clearly feels it’s doing something right with newsletters, since it’s launched 12 in the past two years alone, including Brexit Briefing, fintechFT and White House Countdown this year. It claims more than 750,000 total opens a week across its eight subscriber-only newsletters (which could include the same person opening one more than once).

Each newsletter is growing by a single digit percentage per month in net new signups (after accounting for people who unsubscribe). Their total open rates range from 25 percent to 50 percent (38.5 percent is the open rate for media and publishing newsletters as measured by email marketing company MailChimp).

Increasingly, publishers are putting out newsletters that are designed to be a product unto themselves and read entirely in email. Similarly with the FT’s premium newsletters, they tend to have a lot of original content, and because their recipients are already subscribing, the FT doesn’t need them to click back to the site. It’s the opposite with the free newsletters, which have less original content and are designed for people to click through to the site, where they’ll likely hit the FT’s high paywall.

It’s hard to tell if newsletters are actually getting people to subscribe because there are so many triggers that get people to subscribe, though. However, if they click to subscribe directly from the email, the newsletter can take all the credit. (Jack wouldn’t say how much, though.)

And while getting signups is good, the FT also ultimately wants its newsletters to pay for themselves. That’s hard for publishers to do because there’s no third-party auditor of newsletters.

Jack said the newsletters get “significant” revenue from standard and sponsorship ads, but acknowledged the measurement issues and expectations that the newsletters pay their own way. “Clearly, the long-term objective is that newsletters are part of an editorial package that should be generating income.”

This article originally appeared on Digiday.

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