Thomas Crampton

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FT’s China Confidential: Great new model for newspapers

Mar 16, 2009

The Financial Times last week launched China Confidential, a high-end, China-focused news service headed by former China bureau chief, James Kynge.

I recently met with Rob Grimshaw, the London-based Managing Director of, who explained in a video interview (below) why people would pay 2,000 pounds per year for the service.

Their self-description:

China Confidential is a premium, subscription newsletter and website from the Financial Times, providing exclusive predictive analysis on China investment themes. Using a dedicated FT team of specialists in China and the UK, it taps Chinese sources from the grassroots to the political elite to forecast key trends and issues. It conducts its own consumer polls and industry surveys to supply all-important primary research. By filtering the work of the best Chinese analysts and academics, it keeps you current on key debates as they unfold inside mainland China.

The principle is great and one I think other newspapers should pursue. By identifying valuable niche markets and zones where information is particularly valuable, there could be many new revenue sources.

China is a good place to start, given the great interest in the country and the difficulties understanding it. Combining the hunger for information on China with a brand name like the Financial Times and one of their China stars, James Kynge, I imagine they will quickly cover their costs.

It will be interesting to see how the project evolves, but I would see great value in going further down the B2B business model, with China Confidential producing white papers, running conferences and even acting as a service connecting experts (along the lines of an expert networks like Gerson Lehrman Group).

Mainstream newspapers could do worse than look at how online B2B properties have built and leveraged valuable, active and involved communities.

Full video of interview with Rob Grimshaw below:

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Rob Grimshaw

Rob Grimshaw
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View Comments for “FT’s China Confidential: Great new model for newspapers”

  • By identifying valuable niche markets and zones where information is
    particularly valuable, there could be many new revenue sources.

  • Simon Cartledge

    Hi Tom
    I'm very interested to see how this does. Grimshaw's description - and the other blurb I've seen about CC, seems to be heavy on features but light on benefits. It seems built around what the FT can do - not what people need.
    And what happened to those FT newsletters it closed/sold a few years ago?
    Now about that lunch ...
    Cheers, Simon

  • as much as I love the FT, and read a lot about China/Asia. I'm not paying $2,000 per year...Though an optimal solution would be to sell a bundle for, FT (paper), and China Confidential for $600/yr or such? They would probably get more subscribers...I get the FT (paper) & I have a basic logon, but I'm not paying for anything more.

  • Michele Travierso

    Hi Thomas,

    I was wondering how the FT will position itself against the mighty (and occasional employer of my services, for the sake of full disclosure) The Economist Intelligence Unit's - Business China.

    It's cheaper -it costs a little more than 1300USD per year, twice a month, 22 issues- and we could argue about respective brand strengths, but The Economist is quite the top dog in this game. Times are hard for all, so much so that Business China recently cut its freelance intake as a temporary cost saving measure.

    While I laud the optimism, I wonder why the FT has decided to launch now, in such dire circumstances and with a formula that isn't proving (pick favorite term) recession/depression/slowdown proof for the leader in the field and closest competitor.

    In any case, best of luck for the new venture!

  • yes,China recently cut its freelance intake as a temporary cost saving measure.

  • @Fons
    I disagree with your point about paying platforms.

    General news platforms face the difficulty of competitors (as the NYT found with Times Select), but specialist business news can have real value. Murdoch bought the WSJ aiming to make it a free site, but was convinced to keep the premium payments on it. The FT has an interesting hybrid model where you are asked to pay after you visit a certain number of times.

    As for the Shirky piece, yes it is excellent.

    That is a fascinating case study of a publication withdrawing from public existence to morph into a paying property!

  • I don't think many people would pay for this.

  • The proof of the pudding is the eating, and as Ben Bland already put it, and I might put it blunter: all financial firewalls for newspapers have failed. Since there are no real alternatives around for newspapers that would allow them to survive the best of all bad ideas might still be the better option.
    I'm sticking to the author of this piece

    What strikes me is the way FT (and all the other brand owners) stick to their brand assuming that the readers are not getting enough for free at the internet. I hope the FT is right, but I would not put my bets on it - let alone invest money.

  • Thomas - It's an interesting experiment but I'm not sure there's anything particularly new about the business model and doubt that it's some sort of silver bullet for ailing newspaper publishers.

    B2B magazines and online information services have been doing this kind of thing (charging subs, holding conferences, awards and networking sessions) for years. The problem is that it's not neceassrily that profitable and the commercials needs of the business tend to grate against the desire for editorial independence and dilute the strength of the journalistic brand.

    For example, reporters at the FT Group's mergermarket service, which sells bankers nuggets of information on M&A activity, often get into trouble for saying they work for the FT, as a way to open doors.

    The FT Group wants to use its brand to expand into specialist subscription services but the FT newspaper is concerned about its reputation being damaged by these spin-offs.

  • Jon

    A UK mobile news website, Mobile Industry Review, just took this a few steps further by withdrawing its public service in exchange for a £12,000 pa subscription site.

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