Financial Times eyes firms to bolster digital

The Financial Times is in talks to buy companies that strengthen its digital subscription business as the newspaper capitalises on greater financial support from its new owner, Japan’s Nikkei, FT chief executive John Ridding has said.
Financial Times eyes firms to bolster digital

The publisher is hunting for companies that can “support and accelerate our growth in quality content and, in particular, are based on digital subscriptions,” Mr Ridding said.

The company is also interested in technology firms that bolster its data analytics — valuable for targeting readers with advertising and subscriber offers.

Nikkei bought the London-based Financial Times a year ago for €1.22bn after a bidding war with Germany’s Axel Springer.

Prior to that, the financial newspaper was owned for 58 years by Pearson, which had focused resources on turning around its education business.

“Nikkei has been very supportive of the investments we need to make,” Mr Ridding said. With Nikkei’s backing, the FT bought a controlling stake in London-based Alpha Grid in June to make more branded content, such as creating videos for advertisers.

It is getting help from Nikkei by combining their ad sales teams in Asia to offset headwinds in the advertising market.

While the outlook for print newspapers in Japan is better than other parts of the world, Nikkei, which publishes the country’s leading business daily, is learning from the FT how to adapt to a digital world.

Meanwhile, the salmon-coloured paper is increasing digital subscriptions with help from two major news events: the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election.

It saw a 600% increase in online customers the weekend after Brexit and a 10% boost in US subscriptions after the November 8 election. Since Nikkei bought the paper, the FT has seen 17% growth in digital subscribers. It has 825,000 paid readers, including 625,000 digital, and aims to reach one million in total by 2020, Mr Ridding said.

By comparison, News Corp’s Wall Street Journal has just over 1m online subscribers, while the New York Times has 1.6m paying digital customers.

Mr Ridding acknowledged that the advertising market has been “tough” for newspapers, which is why the publisher is trying to reduce its dependence on ads and have a business model based more on getting readers to pay for its journalism.

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