The Financial Times grew digital subscriptions by 11% in 2018 while its ‘North Star’ reader engagement metric, measured by the frequency and length of reader visits to was up 15%, according to the publisher’s annual accounts.

Revenues from combined subscriptions and newspaper sales represented 55% of total revenues of £323.6m. Advertising, meanwhile, was “resilient”: digital ad revenues were down 3%, print down 5% – minor declines which defied industry trends, the directors’ report said.

Total circulation increased 8% year on year to 985,000 (with digital paid readership accounting for more than three quarters); it has since hit the one million mark Cait O’Riordan, the FT’s chief product and innovation officer, told a conference earlier this year – more than a year ahead of the target date of 2020 – with more than 80% digital only.

The FT is no longer a newspaper, according to O’Riordan: it’s a digital subscription business. And its success has been driven by a focus on a single metric – engagement.

The reason engagement is so important, she explained, is because the FT’s biggest competitor is not other publishers but rather attention.

FT readers are incredibly busy people, and when her team examined how subscribers were getting value out of their subscription – Were they using the app? Were they sharing stories? How much time were they spending with the FT? – it came down to three factors: recency (when people last came to the site); frequency (how often they came in any given time period); and volume (the amount of content they consumed when there).

These figures are “mashed together” to form an engagement score – and every single FT subscriber has one.

“We know that if we can tip them over the remarkably precise figure of 18.2 they become engaged subscribers,” O’Riordan said. (For more, read WARC’s report: How measuring engagement gained the Financial Times 1 million subscribers.)

And it is the development of products designed to move the dial on those three measures, like myFT and Topic tracker, that has not only increased engagement but reduced churn.

Sourced from Companies House; additional content by WARC staff