For newspapers, connecting with readers is the ultimate challenge. At newsstands, many customers choose a paper only after they see the headline on the cover. […] On the Internet, cozying up to readers is easier, because many of them willingly leave digital trails of their actions and preferences. Getting them to generate revenue is the challenge. But The Financial Times, the London-based business newspaper, has had considerable success at both of late, in part because it requires regular readers of its Web site to pay. […]
When a reader signs up for an online subscription, The FT can track every click. That makes it easier to tailor content and new services to their interests. When customers let their subscriptions lapse, The FT can pursue them via e-mail and other means in an effort to get them to reconsider.
In businesses where getting to know one’s customers has long been essential, this might not seem revolutionary. But [John Ridding, the chief executive of The FT.] said improvements in collecting and mining customer data were a big reason digital sales accounted for 24 percent of The FT’s revenue last year, a big jump from 19 percent a year earlier and a considerably higher percentage than many other publishers can claim. […]
The importance of customer data to media companies is reflected in a plan by one of The FT’s biggest rivals, News Corp., to expand its presence in Britain by taking over full control of British Sky Broadcasting, the country’s largest pay television company. One of the main rationales for that deal, which the British government last week said it was inclined to approve, is the possibility of cross-selling News Corp. media products and services to Sky customers, using that company’s extensive customer records, analysts say.
Customer data are also at the core of a growing dispute between publishers and Apple over the terms of its new service offering digital subscriptions to newspapers and magazines via the iPad tablet computer or the iPhone. Not only does Apple intend to keep 30 percent of revenue from such sales, the company also plans to keep customer data to itself.