FT.com today launches a user-led chatroom, the first step in a six-month overhaul of the site designed to capitalise on the massive interest in financial news as markets collapse and recession looms across the world. The Long Room, named after a notorious but now closed City boozer, will be part of FT.com’s popular Alphaville news and analysis strand and allows users – by invitation only – to begin and run their own discussions and upload files.
It’s part of attempts by the FT to make the site more interactive – and to ultimately increase readership across the site and convince more occasional readers to sign up to a paid subscription. In an interview with paidContent:UK FT.com MD Rob Grimshaw said the blog was a sign of things to come, and he gave a strong defence of the site’s part-paid business model. He also revealed the number of stories users can read for free before paying has,, in the past week gone down from 30 to 20. The site has already seen a big increase in subs uptake – will this create more, or could it force casual readers to get their finance news kicks elsewhere?
— Charging ahead: “At times, we’ve been out there on our own as a champion of paid content online amongst the mass media and publishers,” says Grimshaw. “Of course now all of the publishers who gave away the right to charge for their content and decided to go for a pure advertising model are now looking a bit nervous.” But it’s not all about news – Grimshaw stresses “there are many levers we can pull” to make money without relying on advertising, such as offering access to portfolios of market and company data as part of a subs deal. “Charging for ubiquitous news is not necessarily a winner and I think a lot of our peers in the industry will struggle charging for content for precisely that reason”.
— Pretty in pink: As expected, The FT is bring a pink background and new design to the site, starting with the Long Room, to match its pink-tinted broadsheet newspaper pages. The overall look is, says Grimshaw, “much nicer, much cleaner, much more white space” and has aligned the web product more closely to the printed product.
— US expansion: Alphaville is making it first overseas expansion with the move of journalist Stacy Marie Ishmael to New York full time. Grimshaw says: “There’s great interest from the US and since we’ve switched to the new access model we’ve seen that increasing: half the 750,000 registered users we have on the site are from the US”. Thousands read the occasional two-hour Markets Live blog sessions on Alphaville and Grimshaw says the team “would love” to run a US-only edition. Grimshaw declined to say how much traffic Alphaville gets but said it was split 40 percent from the UK, 30 percent US and 30 percent from the rest of the world.