How The Financial Times is pursuing subscribers still in their teens

The Financial Times is expanding how it appeals to school students by creating more focused content and, in a novel twist, releasing a board game. One of the outcomes is that by instilling regular reading habits in younger people, they go on to subscribe to one of the FT’s university student packages.

The FT Schools initiative, where students between 16 and 19 years old can create online accounts giving them access to the FT’s content, began in the U.K. in June 2017 and expanded globally in January 2018. FT Schools now has more than 40,000 student accounts at 2,800 schools in 101 countries. As part of the program, students receive weekly emails featuring content tied to their specific fields of study, whether that’s economics, politics or the environment. It also shares video content and more tactical help with articles about how to get ahead in exams and interviews.

“With the bombardment of fake news, the merit of FT Schools has been access to high-quality journalism and awareness of the FT as an authoritative source,” said the FT’s global education editor Andrew Jack. “There has been a rise in expressing interest for university student subscriptions. That’s the most elegant next step.” The FT offers a student subscription priced at £2.65 ($3.27) a week, as well as enterprise-style packages for universities and higher education institutions. It’s interest in the latter, which has grown in the 18- to 20-year-old age range, said Jack. The publisher couldn’t share details on the increase in interest for subscriptions by the time of publication.

For the most part, the FT Schools initiative has used existing FT content and packaged it in relevant and thematic ways that map with the school curriculum. Two content areas it wants to expand are around career advice for life beyond school and financial literacy, hence releasing the board game. The game, called “Road to Riches,” is designed to help teach smart money management and investment without seeming dry. Students and teachers already part of the program get a free edition of the game, otherwise, it costs £28 ($34.38). Released Oct. 2., the publisher said it has had over 400 applications for the game.

To continue to gather momentum for FT Schools, it currently runs eight different writing competitions with partner organizations like the Royal Geographical Society and the Political Studies Association. Most recently, the FT partnered with the Royal Economic Society for the young economist of the year, where the winning essay is published in the FT. “For us, we also give insights into the younger generation to our existing readership,” said Jack. “They get to hear the fresh views.”

The FT has a solid subscription business of over 1 million paying readers, three-quarters of whom are digital subscribers. But a lot of these are from the corporate world, and it skews male and older — the average age across print and digital for the FT is about 48 years old. Like a lot of publishers, to foster future growth, it needs to fill the funnel.

“All news media has always had a next-generation challenge,” said Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis. “News is often perceived by young people to be less relevant to their everyday lives. But the internet age has substantially accelerated the challenge. Young people have more ways to engage with the news agenda, but news media — and their collective take on the agenda — have become, if anything, less relevant.”

FT Schools is growing in terms of weekly page views and overall signups. However, it’s worth noting the 40,000 figure is a cumulative number since the program started — the net active number is smaller as students and teachers will have left their schools. The publisher couldn’t provide the number of active accounts before the time of writing. As students register their account with a school email address, there’s no consistent way of reaching them once they leave.

According to Jack, one economics teacher from the U.K. said his first port-of-call each day is the FT, and sets weekly homework for his students based on the two to three question suggestions and accompanying articles that are sent in FT School’s weekly newsletter.

The topics that are popular align with overall FT readership. Jack pointed to Brexit and European politics, profiles of significant technology industry leaders, big-tech regulatory issues and the climate crisis. Examiners and interviewers extol the importance of real-world application to theories from the classroom, with the initiative the FT acts as a constantly updated resource.

In the U.K., just 7% of people make an ongoing payment to news media, according to Reuters Digital News Report. Paying for news is an older characteristic. Instead of the initiative building a habit of getting quality content for free, Jack believes it has the opposite effect.

“Digital distraction and fake news are big existential threats,” he said, “but the result has been a recognition of the value of high-quality media outlets and, increasingly, the understanding that this comes with investment. That makes a legitimate case to pay.”

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