FT chief: 'Quality journalism is a viable business'

The Financial Times has claimed that its booming profits are evidence that investment in journalism and charging a premium for it works.

And chief executive John Ridding has taken issue with the free online model adopted by every other UK national newspaper, describing it as a ‘shame”.

Ridding, formerly a journalist with the FT, spoke exlusively to Press Gazette as FT Publishing reported adjusted operating profit up 107 per cent year-on-year to £56m on turnover up 23 per cent to £344m.

Despite raising its daily cover price by 50p to £1.50, the FT boosted sales by two per cent year-on-year in the last six months of 2007 to 440,000.

And FT.com has increased paid subscriptions by 13 per cent, to 101,000, while changing its access model in October to allow limited free access to registered users.

Ridding said: ‘We have always believed that quality journalism is a viable business and I think we’ve shown that this year. People will pay premium prices for premium journalism.”

And he urged rival news organisations to be more confident in the value of what they produce. ‘A lot of media has to be more confident in the value of media,’he said. ‘Quality journalism is a great thing and people are prepared to pay for it.

‘The perception is that everything must be free to get scale. I don’t think it’s right and I think it’s a bit of a shame.

“There may be a little bit of a difference for business news and analysis – content used for making decisions about creating value. But I think it holds true more broadly than that.”

Ridding revealed that expansion of video production on FT.com has been a revenue driver in 2007 – with 100 videos a month, now generating 500,000 views.

‘The rates we can charge for sponsorship are several factors higher than what we can for the same number of page views in normal web page traffic.”

He said that the print FT’s circulation success in 2007 had partly been down to being ‘in the right place at the right time”. He said: ‘The world has moved our way. The nature of the story in terms of international business and finance has become very clear.

‘The most recent example – the sub-prime crisis which erupted in the US – very quickly moved global and brought down Northern Rock.

‘The idea that business and finance are now so globally intertwined is something we have invested in for the past 20 years.

‘At a time of business uncertainty we’ve been even more of a must read.”

Ridding’s tip on surviving the current economic uncertainty facing media is to be ‘as different as possible”.

He said: ‘When any industry is facing disruption, the single most important lesson is to differentiate yourself and focus on what makes you different.

‘We are very proud to be a niche brand. High-end business news and analysis for high-end business decision makers.”

He said the FT was better placed now to face economic uncertainty than it was in the advertising recession of 2001 onwards, when successive loss-making results led to deep editorial cutbacks.

He said that the FT had broadened its revenue base.

But he added: ‘Whether or not there is a cyclical downturn, it’s pretty clear there’s a structural change which is leading marketing budgets towards the internet, partly because it’s provable and accountable.”

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