Financial Times Turns 125

Paper celebrates digital success but also shares common industry woes

The Financial Times marks its 125th anniversary today, and, befitting the challenges facing newspapers today, the celebration will have practical elements.

An ad campaign with the somber tagline “Still guiding the way for global business” is breaking in print and online. The U.K.-bsaed FT is using the occasion to offer a special rate on full-page congratulatory ads and a special $125 subscription offer on Feb. 13. There are some fanciful aspects, too: Hot-air balloons in the paper’s signature pink color will fly over financial hubs over the course of the year, and the Empire State Building will be lit pink on May 1.

With its pioneering metered paywall, the FT has been held up as a rare success story in a newspaper industry that has struggled to adapt to the digital age. Last year, subscriptions to, at more than 300,000, surpassed print circulation for the first time. Mobile is the fastest-growing source of the FT’s digital traffic, accounting for 25 percent of its visitorship. 

But the FT isn’t immune from the struggles facing newspapers in general. Print ad revenue has been challenged and digital advertising has been slow to make up for it; the paper recently adopted a “digital-first” initiative that entailed a net loss of 25 jobs. There’s growing competition for the global business reader, from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg LP. Parent Pearson denies the paper's for sale, but rumors to the contrary have been flying.

In changing times, the paper sees its continued narrow focus on business influencers and editorial independence as an asset.

“Our laser-like focus on that market and providing it with a lack of party affiliation and a global outlook has been key to our success,” Andrew Sollinger, the FT’s managing director for The Americas, said in a veiled swipe at its biggest competitor, the Journal. “Our readership relies upon that unfiltered information. They want exactly that that we’re providing, not the additional info.”

While print is still of “critical importance,” Sollinger said, “We’re prepared for [the challenge], and constantly evolving. Our reliance on digital content revenues will cushion us against any revenue swings.”

To that end, the FT expects to get half its revenue from circulation revenue this year (defying the conventional newspaper model, with its 80-20 advertising-circulation split), with 30 percent coming from digital.