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Don’t be held to ransom by Google and Facebook, says FT online editor

FT_ed

Shrimsley: “We are big believers in reach but we also believe in return”

The online editorial chief of UK’s Financial Times has warned media companies they risk becoming “small suppliers” to Google and Facebook and expressed concern that too many publishers are losing sight of their own business model.

Robert Shrimsley, editor of FT.com, said any business that relies on subscriptions must be careful amid fears distributing content though third party platforms, including the search and social giants, could undermine that model.

Reach for the sake of it is worthless, he said, adding that publishers are leaving themselves exposed to the whims of distributors.

Speaking during a discussion on distributed content, Shrimsley said: “Our fundamental business model is that we sell subscriptions to our content. We think our content is valuable and we are not going to do anything that destroys that fundamental business proposition.

“We are a big believer in reach but we also believe in return. Reach for its own sake is of very little value to us and when I look at companies who are putting all their content on Facebook I find myself asking ‘what is your business model’?

“It seems to me that you have essentially volunteered to become a small supplier to (UK supermarket) Tesco. You are entirely vulnerable to instant changes in the terms and conditions.

“You are just another link in a chain.”

Shrimsley added that consumers remember the platform which hosted the story rather than the publication which produced it.

That further undermines attempts to develop brand strength, he said.

“People tell me they read an interesting article and I’ll ask where did you read it? They say they ‘read it on Facebook’,” he explained.

“They don’t say “I read it on the Washington Post’ or the FT or Telegraph. Facebook is the brand and if you are in the business of trying to build something valuable and sustainable you have to be careful how you dance with it.

“I worry sometimes when I hear media firms say ‘I just have to do these things’. I have seen the roundabout go around enough times to see the things that we just have to do turn out not to work.”

Shrimsley, speaking at the International News Media Association world congress in London, said the industry became “extraordinarily excited” about Apple News which was tipped to “revolutionise the way we do business”.

But it failed to take off, he said.

“You have to be very cold-headed about [distributing content] and not get in a panic about something,” he said. “You have to work out how it is going to work for you.”

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