@ GIIS: FT.com Boss: Media Should Ape Airlines, Lay Off Our Business Model

FT.com’s MD has called on media commentators to stop questioning the publisher’s online business model – and urged the industry to imitate the airline sector. FT.com last year began giving readers five free articles and another 30 if they register for free; it’s increased the number of registered users but not, so far, paying subscribers.

Rob Grimshaw told SIIA’s Global Information Industry Summit at London’s Royal Garden hotel this morning: “There seems to be a prevailing view out there that there must be purity in business models on the web – that it must be all pay-for or all free – and any effort to marry the two is an offence to the purity of the web environment.”

FT.com feels like it’s still combating the rather binary “free-or-paid?” debate that was most prominently sparked by WSJ.com’s consideration of “going free”, before it eventually decided against it. Grimshaw said “many major publishers have simply caved in” to that free-or-bust paradigm: “If everything’s going to be free then a lot of it will be rubbish.”

Grimshaw: “One thing that’s important is to protect the right to define our own business model and make the decisions for ourselves. They shouldn’t be the people telling us what we can and can’t do with our business model on the internet. The conclusion that we’ve come to is that, if we want to move forward, then we need to find a way to do two things together – make money from our content (it’s great content, we should never be ashamed of putting a value on it) and make money from advertising. We don’t see any reason why you can’t do the two things together.

“There are some very narrow debates in the media industry. If you look at the airline business has done with the internet as a pricing vehicle, the idea that Ryanair can have two customers sitting next to each other, one has paid £100 and the other has paid £500 but they’re both happy… I think that’s fascinating and real innovation. I don’t see that anyone in the media industry has got anywhere near that kind of pricing sophistication.”

Back to FT.com’s model specifically, Grimshaw was asked if advertising is dead. A rather obvious answer, given his earlier protestations: “I think advertising models are alive and kicking, but a lot of mainstream publishers will wake up to acknowledge that giving all their content away is not necessarily the smartest thing to do and will adopt mixed models.”