The Financial Times closed FT Tilt on 13 October which was a big surprise and a bigger disappointment because it bore so many of the hallmarks of a successful web media product: it was niche, it was a rich source of hard-to-get information, it aggregated content and viewpoints, it filtered information really well, it was aimed at a wealthy, professional and highly interested target market who might be expected to participate and even shell-out to cross a paywall.
Tilt was an emerging markets news service created by Paul Murphy, an editor with a successful track record in product innovation with the markets blog FT Alphaville. The powerful idea underlying Tilt was that the source of global market influence was tilting (their pun) to the BRICs and that you couldn’t rely on reporters in London, New York or Tokyo to get the best information about what was happening in Shanghai, Sao Paulo or Mumbai, you had to go to the source. Tilt was all about creating a network of organisations and individuals in situ in emerging markets and aggregating and distributing their intelligence to a community of market analysts and investors in global financial markets around the world, people who are part of the FT’s natural constituency.
So why did it fail? Almost certainly not because it wasn’t a good idea. Felix Salmon in his blog at Reuters argued that
“I don’t think that FT Tilt failed, in terms of its core journalistic output. I think that the FT got greedy for subscription revenues from day one, and never let Tilt grow and thrive as it could and should have done”
That must be true but I don’t think it’s anywhere near the whole story...
Tilt was a great product and people wouldn’t pay the price they asked for it (which was *very* high - four figures per annum). Nevertheless I’m not sure that the equation in product development and marketing is ever so simple as ‘good journalism’ + ‘right price’ = success. Instead, Tilt might have been a failure of whole product development, never quite getting the mix of content, services, brand, marketing and price to work together in the right way at the right time.
Tilt never felt quite resolved. It didn’t look as professional or as richly featured as it undoubtedly was. The different service levels were confusingly sub-branded with obtuse witticisms, latinate nouns and abbreviations. The interface design-style was utilitarian and dashboardy but lacked any finesse. There was a 960 word guide to ‘Getting the most out of FT Tilt
’ that wouldn’t have been necessary if the mechanisms to receive notifications, filter content, save searches and share filters had been self-evident. Tilt felt over-complicated and under-branded.
There’s an argument that more customers would have been prepared to pay subscriptions (who knows how much, though?) if only they could have appreciated the provenance and the potential.
There’s a comment on Felix Salmon’s blog post. “I had a free account and quite enjoyed it. It got better over time, I thought the quality vector was going in the right direction. But, absolutely over priced. The suggestion of free access to subscribers is interesting. The immediate interest would have been there.”
I had a free account too. Not long before it folded, and after using it intermittently for nine months I started to *get* Tilt. I have no idea what it was that made me shift my perception but it wormed its way into my browsing habits. And Tilt kept innovating. A couple of months before the death a sentiment tracking system was introduced. Called Tempo, it monitored contributors’ views on whether a story was good news or bad news for the subject company or market and this could have been the killer proposition if it had been extended to the audience, and not just contributors, over time. People pay to know what their peers think and especially to understand change in sentiment because that’s the time to sell or buy.
None of that happened in time to save the product. The rest of this post is speculation. Was the content network broad and deep enough to provide the value implicit in Tilt’s proposition of being so close to far off markets that it was as if you were there? I don’t know what Tilt’s editors or marketers attempted but I suspect that more investment in building the contributor network, more time to test the market, less reliance on assumptions about what features would work, more investment in designing interactions, more attention to branding, investment in marketing and - especially - building audience revenues slowly and testing critical price points - would have made a difference.
These are the multiple facets of product development that need to come together to provide sustainable momentum and direction. The fact that Tilt got so much right and still failed shows how hard it is to create a complementary mix of business, technology and customer understanding, especially with an entirely new kind of product sponsored by a big company rooted in traditional media with a relentless focus on the business plan.