Lionel Barber has spent 34 years at the FT, including 14 as editor.
He’s now leaving the title after being awarded News Provider of the Year at the British Journalism Awards. Barber is really proud of what they’ve achieved over the last few decades and spoke to Press Gazette on the matter.
The FT made headlines in the media world earlier this year, breaking 1 million paying readers with more than 75% on digital.
FT were in many ways ahead of their time when we look at how media business models have evolved in recent memory.
Many publishers scrambled to throw up paywalls over the last few years and pivot to reader revenue in the face of dropping ad revenues and decreasing third party traffic.
The FT launched an online paywall way back in 2002 though, and were the first to move to a metered model in 2007.
They blazed the path and a lot of other titles followed, like The Times – although many still now resist charging for content, notably the Guardian.
Barber now feels that with their recent successes, their early moves to charge for content have proven to be the right ones.
“I think we reinvented the business model. We went for subscription. We charged for content. We raised prices. We said we’re going to be a subscription model… and I think you’re seeing now the results: 1m paying readers, a growing global audience. We’ve gone for quality, we’ve gone for a premium product, and people want to read us”
With Barber at the helm since 2005, the number of FT journalists has risen, going from 550 to 580.
A Silver Bullet?
Barber thinks that charging for content is really the only way to do things nowadays for large publishers:
“You’ve got to charge for content these days, otherwise you just can’t afford to do serious in-depth journalism”
He is hesitant to though to give broad advice on whether subscription models are right for everyone.
He said that he wouldn’t give silver bullet lessons to anyone or make a more sweeping case that subscription models are the answer to the more general financial malaise in the publishing industry.
The FT in general are trying to do just that though, launching in-house consulting arm FT Strategies a few months back to help other publishers to “create a future-proof media business”.
FT Strategies will give advice and guidance based on the “living case study” of what they’ve gone through as a transforming organisation in the early 21st Century.
It would be fascinating to take a look ‘under the hood’ at what they’ve done to succeed in a tough market, and will no doubt be of great value to other media businesses that participate.
A Blank Page
Barber plans to take a break and let his inbox fill.
His next chapter is a “blank page”.
“I’ve done what I’ve done. I’ve had a wonderful career”
He’s going to take a holiday, and maybe continue writing. He’s certainly earned some downtime, good luck to him!
Read the full article here for more on his experiences interviewing Putin, views on Brexit and time with the FT.