FT.com Considering iTunes-Style Micro-Payments Model

FT.com executives are considering introducing a pay-as-you-read model loosely based on Apple’s iTunes to increase its digital revenues further. FT.com MD Rob Grimshaw told paidContent:UK in an interview that the site is “exploring the possibility of pay-per-view” and could introduce some form of micropayment model within 12 months, as long as it’s easy for readers to pay and at the right price.

Access model change: “We have said for a long time we would want to more with our access model and particularly the pricing.” Grimshaw says. “It’s incumbant on us to offer readers maximum flexibility. This has been in the back our minds for while.” FT.com has attracted much attention for its hybrid part-free paid content model — the site allows registered readers to read up to 20 stories a month without paying. So will micropayments be the end of all that? “That’s a good question and one I can’t answer now… but there’s nothing to say that sampling is incompatible with the PPV approach — the two things can work together.” He adds that having about 1.4 million registered users means advertisers can better target the site’s audience — and that ad revenue would be lower if there was no paywall or registering system in place, so it’s something he wants to continue.

Price?: How much is a FT.com story worth? iTunes commonly charges 79p a track, but people keep music and re-use it long after they keep and read news articles. “There are a lot of questions around pricing. We would look to test it around different price points.” Grimshaw admits “there are differences between music and editorial content” but he’s convinced that people will pay, so long as they don’t have to fill out “three pages of forms” every time they want to know what what’s happening in petrochemicals.

Ridding’s take: FT CEO John Ridding — currently on a PR offensive to boost the case for charging for news — adds his weight to idea in an interview with the Indie: “Our view is that there’s significant potential for pricing per piece and per time period. The whole point about the internet is flexible consumption and reader choice.”

Meanwhile, the theory that News International’s forthcoming standalone Sunday Times website could be a test bed for Rupert Murdoch’s paid content plans gets more credence: Guardian.co.uk reports, citing “senior industry sources”, that Sundaytimes.co.uk will launch at the end of November and will adopt a paid content model.

Guardian.co.uk cites internal NI documents showing that the paper made a loss for 2008-9 of £16 million and is expected to lose £12 million this year — compared to a £53.4 million profit in 2007. But more interesting is a separate development that will see marketing spend to boost print subscriptions doubled from £7 million to £13.5 million this year across NI. While this talk of paid-for online content goes on, that shows where executives see newspapers in their future revenue plans: right in the very middle.