September 22, 2019

With a Focus on Its Future, Financial Times Turns 125

On Wednesday, The F.T. is celebrating its 125th birthday. The newspaper’s London headquarters along the south bank of the Thames will be lit up in pink, the color of the paper on which it has been printed since shortly after it was founded. There will be a few parties — understated, of course, for these are straitened times in the City of London, and challenging ones for the newspaper industry.

Anniversaries are difficult for newspapers. At a time when they are losing subscribers and advertisers, and losing ground to digital media organizations that are still in their adolescence, few publishers want to emphasize their age.

But John Ridding, chief executive of The F.T., has a better digital story to tell than most other newspapers. True, the print editions are fading. But The F.T. has figured out how to make significant money from new outlets, without straying from its original purpose. So Mr. Ridding is not worried about looking back.

“Milestones matter,” he said. “In our industry, which has seen so much upheaval and disruption, it shows amazing continuity. The look and feel of the business was very different but there are some enduring constants that persist.”

In addition to its birthday, The F.T. can point to several other recent or pending milestones.

Last year the number of digital subscribers, now more than 300,000, surpassed the print circulation of the paper, which has slipped below that figure. This year, print and digital subscriptions and sales are set to overtake advertising as a source of revenue. Mobile devices now account for one-quarter of The F.T.’s digital traffic and about 15 percent of new subscriptions.

The F.T. was one of the first newspapers to charge readers for access to its Web site, which it did in 2002. It revamped its digital business model in 2007, moving to a “metered” approach, in which readers get a certain number of articles free before they are asked to subscribe.

Since 2007, The F.T.’s paying digital audience has tripled, and the metered approach has been adopted by other newspapers, including The New York Times.

With print circulation moving in the other direction — last year alone, it fell about 15 percent — The F.T. recently accelerated its move away from paper. In January, Lionel Barber, the paper’s editor, sent a memo to the staff, detailing a plan to “ensure that we are serving a digital platform first and a newspaper second.”

Under the plan, the print operations of The F.T. will be streamlined. While separate regional editions — for the United States, Britain, Continental Europe, Asia, India and the Middle East — will be maintained, there will be fewer nightly updates.

Editorial hierarchies will be simplified, Mr. Barber wrote, with an end to “octopus commissioning” under which reporters answer to multiple editors. Deadlines will be more strictly enforced. The paper is eliminating about three dozen editorial positions, though 10 posts are being created on the digital side.

Mr. Ridding described the new approach as “more of an evolution than a revolution.”

“It’s more of an intensification of an existing digital trend,” he said. “It’s driven by a need to redeploy resources to digital. That’s what readers want.”

It’s not all about cutting. The F.T. also continues to develop new products, like an F.T. Weekend mobile application, to accompany the Saturday/Sunday print edition, which remains an important source of advertising revenue; the app is set to be introduced shortly. Last year, The F.T. began publishing e-books with selected themes, compiling articles from the newspaper and enhancing them with material from journalists’ notebooks; the first one examined the possibility of a Greek exit from the euro zone.

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Shortcuts: The Rise in Self-Publishing Opens the Door for Aspiring Writers

I’M a snob. Oh, I don’t particularly care what kind of car you drive or if you wear the latest designer fashions, but until recently I turned up my nose at authors who published their own books.

It smacked of self-indulgence and vanity (as in that old term “vanity press”). But as one friend and then another chose to pay to publish their own books — people I admire and respect — and as the author Amanda Hocking became the superstar example of successful self-publishing, I realized I had been too hasty.

The phenomenon was worth a second look.

And one of the first things I learned about the self-publishing business was that there was a reason the subject of many self-published books was — yes — how to self-publish, because it’s not easy to understand all the ins and outs.

“As with many things in life, there are often hidden fees,” said Lorraine Shanley, president of Market Partners International, a publishing consulting firm.

And many options. First, you can choose to publish your book as a print edition, e-book or both. With print editions, the most common system now is called “print on demand.” That means you don’t actually have the book printed until someone buys it.

That’s unlike the old days, say 15 years ago, when if you published your own book, you had to commit to buying hundreds or thousands of copies.

The advent of digital printing means it makes economic sense to print one copy at a time, said Kevin Weiss, president and chief executive of Author Solutions, which owns numerous self-publishing companies, including iUniverse, AuthorHouse and Xlibris.

“Before, you had to fill your garage with books and pass them on to all your best friends,” Mr. Weiss said.

Self-publishing is obviously taking off, but statistics on new titles are almost impossible to come by because so many books counted as part of “nontraditional” publishing include reprints of old books now in the public domain.

But Mr. Weiss said his company was on track to publish 26,000 new books this year, compared with 13,000 four years ago. CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of, doesn’t release numbers, but a spokeswoman, Brittany Turner, told me in an e-mail that its books increased by 80 percent from 2009 to 2010.

There are many reasons potential authors want to publish their own books, Mr. Weiss said. They have an idea or manuscript they have passed around to various agents and publishers with no luck; they may just want to print a few copies of, say, a memoir for family members; they want to use it in their business as a type of calling card; or they actually want to sell a lot of books and make their living as writers.

“You have to know what services you’re buying, who retains the rights, and realize that getting a book published is not the same as getting it marketed,” Ms. Shanley said. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

Then there’s choosing the right company. If you’re technologically comfortable, or CreateSpace may be good options. CreateSpace, for example, doesn’t charge upfront fees, but you’ll pay if you want additional services like copy editing and design layout. And it costs $5 to $10 for the printed proof.

On the other hand, iUniverse and AuthorHouse offer what Mr. Weiss called “assisted self-publishing.” But the price of that assistance can range widely, starting as low as $400 and going as high as $15,000.

For the lower end, you get help in creating a cover and getting a copyright and ISBN number (the numeric book identifier). You’ll also get one paperback copy of your finished book, as well as an e-book distributed on all platforms, including the Kindle and the Nook. The book will also be sold through Amazon and Barnes Noble.

For $15,000, you get content editing and copy editing, indexing, citations and footnoting, and promotions like book trailers, placement in Google searches and other goodies. And you receive 150 paperback and 50 hardback copies of your book.



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