FT.com faces the multi-channel future of news publishingThe Financial Times is transforming itself into a multi-channel content brand to meet the challenges of the digital age, says online publishing director Nigel Pocklington.

Speaking at the New Media Knowledge In The City Interactive event at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts yesterday, Mr Pocklington reminded delegates of Rupert Murdoch's keynote speech in April, which called for a radical reappraisal of how newspapers should address the future. Mr Pocklington said the newspaper industry is now managing the transition to the digital era rather than waiting for it to happen.

"We're in the middle of a rather uncomfortable generational shift," said Mr Pocklington.

"Newspapers have a high penetration of sales in the UK and an important role in the national debate, but we're moving in to the digital era with a generation that doesn't read newspapers.

"This will be the core audience for the FT and we need to position ourselves digitally. We can't lose their custom."

Within the business world there is still a role for the 'serendipitous browsing' of printed newspapers, said Mr Pocklington, but this needs to be complemented with digital services such as the online archive, PDA and mobile news. RSS news feed services are doubling in traffic monthly and a new desktop alert service will be launched next week.

These digital tools have allowed the FT to build a large audience at a relatively tiny cost - very different to running 20 global print sites. However, this strategy has brought a new set of challenges for publishers.

"Newspaper publishers come from a push-based environment; they hit a deadline, see the newspaper printed and that's it. Next morning it's almost a dead product," he said.

"Newspaper publishing now involves the challenge of managing an array of outsource agreements and grappling with the economics of outsourcing.

"Now we manage a subscriber base, whereas before we were managing distributors and newsagents."

Working with payment companies is also vital for a digital publisher; the FT loses the same number of subscribers through card expiry as it does from cancellations.

The FT has become known for its successful paid-for subscriptions, credited to its specialist content and affluent audience base. FT.com has 80,000 subscribers paying either £75 or £200 per year.

"Much of our work is managing device proliferation - we can't afford not to be on a lot of these platforms," said Mr Pocklington.

"The Blackberry, for example, is a hugely important device in the business world and similarly Pearson, our publisher, is starting to put chunks of college text books on iPods to reach students."

Digital operations are integrated throughout the FT. Advertising options combine web and print formats, journalists work across all platforms and the company is pushing subscription bundles combining coverage from digital channels and the print newspaper.

Managing the balance between free and paid content is a delicate operation for the FT.

"We are seen as a newspaper of record and need to retain that value", said Mr Pocklington.

"But we still need enough free material online to feed the blogosphere and search engines so that we can attract new readers and paying subscribers."

Allowing readers to contribute to the site through discussion forums is also key to generating traffic, and can feed information back to the site's news coverage.

"It can feel as if the world has gone blog mad, and there are attacks on mainstream media everywhere," said Mr Pocklington.

"It's clear that there is a wider discussion taking place and we need to figure a way of taking part in that."

Mr Pocklington was speaking at 'Are you content?', a one-day event exploring developments in digital content convergence across the music, TV, gaming and publishing industries.

The event was part of In The City Interactive, a series of showcases and conventions tackling digital content issues and organised in partnership with media resource site New Media Knowledge. The event was opened by In The City founder and Factory Records legend Anthony H Wilson.

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