Online journalism may finally be starting prove itself, as two of the most prominent old school news organizations reached major subscription milestones.
The New York Times and the Financial Times each announced big declines in overall revenue this week, as the media advertising business continues to struggle. However, on the bright side, paid subscriptions to The Times' website continue to rise, even beyond what a lot of people suspected when The Times relaunched its paywall last year. As a result, the paper now makes more money from circulation revenue — that is, people who actually pay to read it — than it does from ads. That's a historic change that flips the entire model of the newspaper business on its head.
Meanwhile, FT, which is one of the few newspapers to have an even more restrictive paywall than The Times, announced that for the first time ever they now have more online subscribers than print subscribers. The paper's registered users jumped almost 30 percent over last year and more than a quarter of its readers come to the site from a mobile device. It's the clearest evidence yet that the future of reading, even for big respected daily print publications is going online.
To be sure, it's not an unqualified success. Both companies continue to see revenue sink and they haven't proven that the online business can sustain their entire companies. But it has to be encouraging to see that the online model can produce something. You can grown an audience online and you can survive as a media business even when ad numbers aren't so hot. The takeaway: People will pay for news, if you offer them a unique and respectable product. The trick, which even these companies have to figure out, is how to get from here to there in one piece.