'Financial Times' Keen to Grow in U.S.

Rolls Out Mobile, Digital Tools as Ads, Circ Increase

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The CEO of the Financial Times, John Ridding, said today that worries over the future of newspaper publishing and traditional media at large are overwrought. "There's a lot of doom and gloom around our industry," Mr. Ridding said. "I don't buy it. There's plenty for traditional media companies to be taking advantage of."
John Ridding
John Ridding

Mr. Ridding spoke to Advertising Age this morning after Financial Times parent Pearson released its 2006 financial report, showing ad revenue at the Financial Times up 9% over 2005. But his faith in traditional media doesn't mean he's betting the house on newsprint.

"We've just unleashed some new mobile applications for FT.com," said Mr. Ridding, who has led the paper and FT.com since last June but first joined the company in 1987. "We launched FT Alphaville, kind of a financial-markets blog, which is growing very well."

New media frontiers aside, the Financial Times still has to deal with plenty of business-space competitors, including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes -- and Conde Nast's forthcoming Portfolio magazine. In the U.S., the Financial Times said it averaged a paid circulation of 134,366 last year, up 9% over 2005.

That's far smaller than most of the stateside competition. The Journal, for example, reported that its core newspaper product, excluding electronic editions, averaged paid weekday circulation above 1.2 million over the six months that ended Sept. 30, 2006, down slightly from 1.3 million over the same period the year before. Forbes reported average paid and verified circulation of 926,833 for the second half of last year, unchanged from the same period the year before.

But like many media sellers today, the Financial Times is working on areas beyond standard advertising. "Conferences, awards, events -- last year we doubled revenue from that," Mr. Ridding said. "We think we can do it again, and frankly we think we can go on doubling it for a while. It's high-margin, but it's also about community."

Unique niche
It helps that the Financial Times fills a niche that isn't available to local, general-interest newspapers. Its core audience of business executives remains highly prized by advertisers. "In this current media environment, you've got to be different," Mr. Ridding said.

The paper's global reach also suits the increasingly borderless nature of corporations. Three-quarters of Financial Times ads last year ran in at least two of its four global operations; half ran in all four.

But the efficiencies and opportunities created by technology -- including new ease in distributing content -- are developments that many print publishers could exploit. Local papers are trying to figure out how best to take advantage of the same technological advances that have birthed threats such as Craigslist, Yahoo and Google.

Sale rumors
Persistent rumors that Pearson might sell the pink paper are just that, Mr. Ridding added. "I've been there for like 19 years," he said. "For big chunk of those years, there's been speculation on and off. I wouldn't be there still if I thought Pearson might sell the FT."

Priorities for the year ahead: Driving the "next generation" of FT.com; continuing to increase paid circulation; and, particularly in the United States, cultivating subscriber renewals to build a more loyal readership.

"I'm not saying there are not big challenges facing the industry," Mr. Ridding said. "The challenges facing newspapers and traditional media are probably the greatest in generations. But we like our chances."
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