By Jessica Toonkel
(Reuters) - Financial Times, one of the pioneers of charging for digital content, is betting that speeding up its website FT.com will help it retain and grow online readership, Chief Executive Officer John Ridding told Reuters.
The London-based publication, which is expected to unveil its new website Tuesday, has halved the time it takes a story to load on desktop to slightly over one second. Mobile devices can now load a story in a little over 2 seconds, down from 6 seconds.
FT hopes boosting the speed of its site and adding more personalization will help it retain and grow its digital subscriber base at a time when more people are accessing news content online for free.
FT has found that readers are 5 percent more engaged in the site when the time it takes to load an article is reduced by just one second, Ridding said in an interview on Friday.
Financial Times is launching the faster digital site at a time when readers are increasingly going online for content, often to other platforms like Facebook Inc.
Ridding said Financial Times, like many publications, must balance working with social media sites to raise awareness of its content with making sure it has a direct relationship with readers and access to the data around their viewing patterns.
To that end, FT posts article on Facebook, but is not part of that site's Instant Articles news offering.
"It's a great marketing opportunity," Ridding said of platforms like Facebook. "But established publishers have to be careful of being disintermediated from their audience."
Financial Times has more than 800,000 subscriptions, two-thirds of which are digital. "We have had double digit growth year over year," Ridding said.
At the same time, revenue from advertising versus subscriptions has flipped over the past six years. "In 2010, well over half of (overall) revenue was advertising," Ridding said. Now that is closer to 40 percent, with 60 percent coming from subscriptions.
In an effort to boost advertising, Financial Times has started focusing more on charging advertisers based on how much time readers spend on their ads as opposed to how many people clicked through an ad.
Ridding said FT can also inform advertisers about specific segments of readers, such as board members or German business travelers, who viewed and ad for a specific period of time.
(The story was refiled to correct the mobile load time)
(Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by David Gregorio)