@ FT Digital Media: Newspapers' Digital Biz Models: Guardian, FT, Bloomberg

How much money do newspapers make from online and how long does print have left? A session on newspaper business models at the FT Digital Media and Broadcasting conference wasted no time in finding out the score for its panelists: John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times and FT.com, says his business makes 20 percent of revenue from online while Tim Brooks, MD of Guardian News and Media, paidContent:UK’s parent company, said it was 15 percent for GNM. Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger has already said he expects the company’s Berliner presses bought in 2005 will be its last — the presses have a shelf life of 25 years so theoretically 2030 is the switch-off date for The Guardian and The Observer in print. Brooks said he sees no reason to disagree with that while Ridding thinks print may be around for “a while longer”, not least because newspapers “don’t run out of batteries”. And what would Bloomberg Ventures founder and CEO Lex Fenwick do if he owned a newspaper? “I’d shut down the print edition today”.

FT.com gets less free: the FT‘s Ridding predicts a “happy digital ending” for newspapers, but said the answer will be found through subscriptions, not advertising. FT.com’s part-free business model has been much discussed, but the “free” part of that equation is shrinking: in October FT.com reduced the number of stories you can read without a subscription from 30 to 20 per month — Ridding said in passing that that number is now just 10 stories per month. The FT has always said 30 was a starting point that would be tweaked in future. FT Group profits rose 13 percent to £195 million in 2008 thanks in part to increased subscriptions, so the company appears to be seeing how far towards entirely paid it can practically go.

Guardian News and Media: One thing Tim Brooks wants is for the New York Times to put its content behind a pay wall. That would allow GNM to achieve its goal of becoming the “world’s leading liberal voice”, in other words, the most-read centre-left media outlet, within a year. Guardian.co.uk has just under 30 million unique users, according to ABCe, a third of which are in the US. Brooks admits executives within GNM have discussions about charging for content “all the time”, but the company’s aim is to expose its journalism to as many people as possible so it will stay free for now. The next part of GNM’s strategy is unveiled Tuesday when it announces plans to open up the company’s digital infrastructure to the world through an “open platform”. We’ll have more on that Tuesday morning.

Newspapers must adapt: Newspapers should cut their losses and go online right now, according to Lex Fenwick, who founded and runs Bloomberg’s business incubator division, Bloomberg Ventures. He told a separate session on monetising content that if a newspaper pressed stop on the presses today it would “cut costs dramatically” and develop its online edition, many of which are “not nearly as good as they could be”. The real competition to newspapers are online-only publications, professional blogs and social networks: “Twitter will be the best news feed on Earth. If you want to know what’s going on in the world right now, you should go to Twitter.” Fenwick’s advice, apart from killing print, is to leverage news sites against sites like Facebook, “create the greatest mobile site” and find ways to give readers not just news but things like data and useful apps. Bloomberg charges $1,500 a month for its news content, but also offers access to databases and exclusive software.

Disclaimer: paidContent:UK’s parent company ContentNext Media is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News and Media.

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