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Sifted paywall launch: FT-backed site reports promising start

Press Gazette

Sifted, the FT-backed news website covering the world of European start-ups, has launched moved to a paywall after two years to generate a “deeper attachment” with its readers and more stable income.

The site launched at the end of January 2019 with targeting an audience of entrepreneurs and investors around Europe, and particularly younger business people who are less “hard-wired into reading the FT”.

Nearly half of Sifted’s readers are under 34 – a lower average age than the FT.

Co-founder and editorial director John Thornhill, who also remains FT innovations editor, told Press Gazette: “The name of the game at [launch] was just to try to build as big an audience as we could in this world and we’ve done that, I think, incredibly successfully… and we get fantastic feedback from people in the community.

“I think we have become a must-read for the European start-up community both from the entrepreneurs and amongst the investors so we’re very pleased with how it has gone editorially.”

The website has 67,000 newsletter sign-ups and now hopes to deepen those relationships.

The Financial Times is Sifted’s biggest shareholder, although it is run independently by a team led by taxi app Hailo founder Caspar Woolley as chief executive and co-founder.

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[Read more: FT backs new website aimed at capturing younger generation of European entrepreneurs]

Sifted launched with a 25% stake from the FT and support from angel investors with an interest in the start-up sector.

It has since generated revenue with advertising, newsletter sponsorships, special reports and webinars.

Thornhill said: “So we were getting quite good commercial revenues from traditional media models but felt very much like the FT which concluded years ago now that this is quite a volatile source of income and, if you can, develop subscription revenue because it’s more predictable it’s more stable, you can have a deeper attachment with your readers so we were always wanting to move towards a membership model at Sifted as well.”

Sifted worked with Piano, which helps publishers create customised digital models, and consulted with the FT Strategies team which helps businesses hoping to follow in its footsteps and build a subscriber base.

The site is offering a monthly membership for £19 and annual membership for £149. Not all of Sifted’s content will be behind the paywall, which is not metered, with at least some free content published every day and all newsletters remaining free.

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The member-only content will be the deeper reportage,  member-only event are also planned. This may even take the form of experimentation with the new audio app Clubhouse, which Thornhill said can enable more two-way dialogue with an audience.

The paywall launched last week and Thornhill said that by Friday a few hundred people had already signed up. He is hoping for several thousand members by the end of the year.

“I think a lot of readers want to support us, they think that something like us ought to exist and therefore have been willing to give us the money which has been fantastic,” he said.

“I think it’s going to a very long, slow grind as all subscription models are until you build up really meaningful revenues but we’ve been very happy with the initial reaction and how it’s gone.”

[Read moreSpanish daily El Pais tops 90,000 digital subscribers nine months after pandemic paywall launch]

Sifted now has 11 journalists, up from five at launch, led by Michael Stothard, the FT’s former Madrid bureau chief and Paris correspondent.

Five are based in London, two in Paris, and one each in Stockholm, Barcelona, Bucharest and Berlin.

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About 63% of the Sifted audience comes from outside the UK in Europe.

Thornhill said it was as yet unclear what impact Brexit may have but that it could be a good opportunity for the site as a “second generation of really interesting tech companies emerges across Europe” and various tech centres fight to take London’s place at the top.

Picture: Sifted

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