It’s not that long ago that City analysts, those highly-rewarded people famed for their foresight, were complaining about Pearson’s ownership of the Financial Times. What does a would-be education publishing giant need with an out-of-date old newspaper they asked.
But according to a Pearson statement this morning the FT is leading a sales boom at the company, with its combination of cover price, advertising and digital subscriptions up 11 per cent for the year so far, ahead of the company’s also impressive seven per cent overall.
The FT used to be a highly cyclical business, most of the revenue coming from tedious ads featuring stock photos of gleaming executives inspecting gleaming new properties or stepping off gleaming new planes for very important, although unspecified, meetings with grateful clients (who were often to be found wearing Arab dress). And then there was the financial announcement revenue, closely packed type about this bond or that company listing.
Clearly advertising is recovering but the real feather in the FT’s cap is its online offering, a range of subscription packages that covers the market from professionals who need all of it (and who claim it on expenses) to others who can get most of what they need for £10 or so a month.
In this it’s locked in a battle with Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal which, as you’d expect, operates a rather more draconian paywall policy. Murdoch’s News Corporation has invested heavily in the WSJ since it bought the Dow Jones business for about $4bn just before the credit crunch, moving former Times editor (and FT man) Robert Thomson to run things in New York and hiring former Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft as editor of the European edition.
The FT figures will also remind Murdoch, as if he needed it, that it’s much easier to sell digital subscriptions to specialist business papers than it is to general newspapers with big business sections, like The Times and Sunday Times.
The FT, edited by former US editor Lionel Barber, is also a big player in the States, rather more so than the WSJ currently is in Europe one suspects. It’s highly unlikely that one or the other will ever win this battle conclusively, there being ample room for two in a world obsessed by business and economics.
But Pearson must be jolly glad it ignored those analysts and hung on to its highly-valuable (and much less cyclical these days) pink paper.