Distilling the news: one month into the FT Edit App
Malcolm Moore is the editor of FT Edit, an app the Financial Times launched in March 2022 to cultivate new audiences. Every weekday at 8:00, the app offers eight news stories for an initial monthly subscription of 99p. At the time of this writing, the app is only available on iPhones. Before joining FT Edit, Malcolm led the tech coverage of the FT and reported for the newspaper from Rome, Shanghai and Beijing. On 27 April 2022, he spoke to our Journalist Fellows on one of our global journalism seminars about the development process of FT Edit and about its goals.
Watch the video of Malcolm’s talk
Read a live, automated transcript
Why digital subscriptions matter
- Reader revenue is now considered the most important revenue stream ahead of advertising, events and platform funding, according to our annual survey of news managers. | Learn more
- According to our Digital News Report 2021, in most countries a large proportion of digital subscriptions go to just a few big national brands. However, in the United States and Norway we do find that up to half of those paying are now taking out additional subscriptions – often to local or regional newspaper brands. | Learn more
- According to our Digital News Report 2020, a very high proportion of news audiences (40% in the US and 50% in the UK) say that nothing could persuade them to pay. Many of these have low interest in news, or are sufficiently happy with the many free news sources available. | Learn more
Seven takeaways from Malcolm’s talk
1. On the rationale behind FT Edit. The FT has around 1.2 million digital subscribers. The new app is targeting the 26 million people who have signed up to any of the newspaper’s social media feeds. The goal is to establish a more meaningful relationship with a portion of those people.
As an experienced tech reporter, Malcolm knows how tough it is to succeed in the mobile app market. “Around 90% of the market is games. Of the other 10% only 2% is news. And in that 2% you have things like Twitter and Reddit, so it's a tough place to be,” he said.
Despite these challenges, the FT decided to go for a mobile app when launching this new product. Why? “We had been doing quite a lot of research on the idea of a lite subscription,” Malcolm said. “We know that the FT is very good at selling subscriptions to its core audience. But we've got stuff that non-professional readers would probably enjoy reading. So the question was finding the right way to deliver our journalism to them. We realised it would be a major piece of work to change the website in order to deliver different versions to different readers. So we thought what we would do is to test the idea in an app first and see if the audience was there.”
2. On how they developed the app. Before launching the app publicly, Malcolm and his team released a Beta version to around 1,000 friends and family for a month so they could iron out bugs and make last minute refinements. At the end of March, they launched a very basic version, with no tweaks or audio features. They’ve had some early feedback from readers and at the top of the list is personalisation: the ability to receive an edition based on one’s preferences or past consumption. Some early users have even asked who was choosing the articles and why they should trust their judgement.
“Our initial assumption was that there's some backlash against an algorithm choosing everything and a fear within certain circles of being trapped in a filter bubble,” Malcolm said. “So we are trying to offer expert curation here and hopefully that will be popular, but it remains to be seen. An interesting area to explore is how much of the public expects an app to learn about them. I’ve always been slightly nervous about that. Because if we look at using analytics to predict our commissioning, we'd be writing endless articles about Elon Musk.”
3. On FT Edit’s numbers so far. Around 24,000 people use the FT Edit app every day, according to internal data Malcolm shared at the seminar. At the time of this writing, the FT doesn’t know yet how many of those users are full-price subscribers, as everyone has access to the FT Edit app without subscribing or even giving their email address. However, this trial period is about to end and soon Malcolm and his team will know how many new readers are actually willing to pay for the app.
“Our growth has been organic and it’s the result of word of mouth,” said Malcolm, who stressed the FT will launch a marketing campaign in the next few weeks.
"The catchline for the campaign is ‘time well read,’” he said. “That's really the message we're trying to get across. We're not trying to give you a summary of everything that’s happened but something that's very high quality to read. And what's really encouraging is seeing people coming back to the app every day and using it for a long period of time. Our focus groups are telling us that people kind of get what we're trying to do: a very focused and minimal reading experience so that people could take some time out of their day, sit down with a cup of tea and really get to grips with a piece of fantastic journalism.”
4. On getting the price point right. FT Edit is free for the first month and then costs 99p for the following six months, rising to a monthly price of £4.99 after that. The monthly price of an FT standard digital subscription is £35. A premium digital subscription costs £55 a month.
“We set the price point where we did because this app is trying to answer the question of whether there is a quite a different audience for the FT,” Malcolm said. “And in order to answer that question, we wanted to make the funnel as wide as we possibly could. We didn't want to put up barriers. We want people to value the app, but we didn't want to put a barrier that would stop somebody who might be interested from trying it.”
5. On the risk of cannibalisation. An FT Edit subscription is so cheap that some analysts have suggested some full-price subscribers might cancel and embrace this cheaper app. Malcolm doesn’t see a risk: “If you are an existing FT reader and you need our journalism to be able to do your job and do it effectively, then this app is not going to be enough for you. There's no news in the app. If you need to know exactly what the big move in the market is today or what the big corporate finance deal is, you're not going to find that in the app. So we don't think that kind of people will trade down.”
6. On what the app offers (and what it doesn’t). Malcolm stressed that FT Edit is not an app for breaking news. “It is an app where [you go ]if you want to know what’s going to happen next in Ukraine according to our journalists on the ground or why there's an energy crisis or why the Fed is behaving the way it is,” he said.
Malcolm suggested that the FT’s goal is not to target news avoiders but people who read the news and want to understand what’s going on. “We’d like to get people who, at the end of the day, feel they have read a lot of stuff that’s partially reported or politically slanted and are not quite sure they understand what exactly is happening in a given situation. So we're trying to give them deep, objective FT quality reporting on the topics that are in the news.”
Before launching the app, Malcolm spoke to a friend who now works at Apple News and he suggested that readers are extremely interested in pieces about lifestyle and personal finance, and not so much about macroeconomics or global issues. This point is proved by the fact that one of the most read pieces at FT Edit so far has been this article on the divine tedium of marriage.
7. On where FT Edit users come from. Most of the FT Edit’s users come from the UK. The next countries with most users are India and the US, but the app is used by people in dozens of countries from Sub Saharan Africa to the Cook Islands. “In the future, we’d like to roll out editions of the app for different geographies, so the version that we have now that's targeted UK will not be the same version that launches in the US,” Malcolm said. “We're excited about the idea of being able to launch a product in large markets like India at a very different price point and to be able to vary the price point between places. And indeed, if I was going to be really ambitious, our stories could potentially be translated into other languages and that would open up other markets to us as well.”
The bottom line
By launching FT Edit, the Financial Times is betting on establishing a more meaningful relationship with a different audience by offering a finite daily edition at a much lower monthly price. Other newspapers have tried and failed with similar products. The Economist’s Espresso and NYT Now are the most relevant examples. However, Malcolm and his team are targeting millions of readers who follow any of the FT’s social channels but are not prepared to pay an expensive full-price subscription. The price of an FT Edit subscription is very low, but the cost of producing a daily edition is also low and bringing those audiences closer to the brand may be worth it.
If you want to know more…
- Listen to this seminar with Lane Greene on Espresso, a similar news product The Economist launched a few years ago. | Listen
- Read this chapter by Richard Fletcher from our Digital News Report 2020 on how people pay for news and why. | Read
- Check out this paper by Eduardo Suárez on how to create a successful reader revenue model, with lessons from Spain and the UK. | Read
- Explore this piece by Laura Oliver on news organisations experimenting with membership models in Latin America. | Read | En español