FT.com To Give Facebook Students Free Four-Year Subs

FT.com will tomorrow begin giving free subscriptions to college students via Facebook, we can reveal. The news site will launch an app that gives users a PIN code which can be redeemed for an annual premium sub.

The app will only be available to those users who are identified at the social site as students and the subscriptions will expire after 12 months but can be renewed for up to four years, which, at current prices, makes it worth £396 ($436, 476 euros). The app can be shared with users’ student friends, will appear in their newsfeeds and will place a badge on their profiles.

It’s not a significant strategy shift as such, and indeed it’s questionable whether it will bring many other than business and politics students to the site, but the idea is to find future subscribers. And it moves FT.com further away from the “one-size-fits-all” subscription strategy the site had before its new access model freed up more articles in October, publisher Ien Cheng told me.

“We’re an old and august brand but we respect and admire a brand like Facebook,” he said. “There are users on the internet who don’t know FT all that well yet. Students are relatively unlikely to pay money for a subscription but they are our future readers. It’s a great way for an old brand to promote itself to a new audience. Clearly, there’s a viral element here.

“Facebook started as a university social network – we’re building on its student verification procedure. It’s part of the general trend to making it free – but in a segmented way.” That is, though FT.com started giving away five free articles per month in October (and 30 to those who register for free with the site), it has not made the site entirely ad-funded and is pursuing multiple models depending on target audience. “It looks like some other people had second thoughts (about going free)”, Cheng said of WSJ.com’s eventual decision against that move.

Though Facebook could theoretically gain some new student users who just want the free subscription, FT.com hasn’t liaised with the site and is merely building on top of its open-platform API – “but we hope they’ll be pleased”.

Latest FT.com stats Figures in Monday’s 2007 earnings stopped at December 31, so FT.com this morning ticked over to 250,000 registered users, meaning it added 100,000 so far this year (that’s not paying subscribers, which stand at 101,000). Cheng expects to top 2007’s 13 percent subscriber increase in 2008.