LAST THURSDAY (July 23, 2015), A DEAL WAS SEALED between the #Pearson Group (a leader in the education business) and Japan’s largest media company, #Nikkei (a privately held, employee-owned company) which changed the 58-year old ownership of Financial Times from the former to the latter. The Berlin-based Axel Springer was also in the running for the deal but lost out against the Nikkei offer which was higher by GBP 100 mn. Nikkei is also part owner of the lifestyle magazine Monocle (whose editor #Tyler Brule has a long standing column in the #FT Weekend titled Fast Lane) and the digital note taking service Evernote.
WHILE NIKKEI IS 138 YEARS OLD, FINANCIAL TIMES (“FT”) has a 127 year-old history: it was first published in 1888. (A curious fact to note is that its Founding Chairman Horatio Bottomley had spent five years in jail for fraudulent conversion). Pearson which was owned by the Cowdray family paid GBP 720,000 for a controlling stake in the newspaper in 1957 which according to #John Gapper would be GBP 60 mn at today’s prices. The present sale of FT to Nikkei at GBP 844 mn is about five times what #Jeff Bezos of Amazon paid for acquiring The Washington Post in 2013. (Incidentally, #The Wall Street Journal was bought by #Rupert Murdoch for USD 5 Bn in 2007).
NIKKEI (WHICH WILL NOW OWN THE FT ) SELLS a little over 3 mn newspapers daily in Japan and the FT has currently 734,000 print and digital subscribers. The sale of any interest in FT was vigorously resisted by Pearson’s former CEO #Dame Marjorie Scardino until she stepped down in 2012. #John Fallon, who succeeded her was however able to convince owners that the group should increase its focus on its core business in education and sell the FT when its market value has probably peaked.
READING A NEWSPAPER IS HABIT FORMING and my day is made only when I finish reading the FT. Some of the world’s best columnists write for FT and it is a delight to read them. I also look forward to reading the FT Weekend edition every Saturday which is arguably the world’s best. It carries probably the finest book and art reviews in addition to great columns on food, gardening, and personal technology. The FT has a crisp, highly readable style and its Big Reads and Analysis have greatly helped readers understand complex economic and political events. Its columnist #Lucy Kellaway is always alert to debunk management speak and #Tim Harford demystifies arcane economic concepts beautifully. My only quarrel has been with #Martin Wolf who packs graphs and statistics in every alternate sentence to drive home his point. The insights contained in the columns of #John Kay, #Simon Kuper and science writer #Anjana Ahuja stay with the reader long after they are read and #David Tang’s column on manners and etiquette can sometimes cause death by laughter . The column that I like most is Small Talk which contains probably the most insightful interviews with all sorts of writers from all over the world and interviews carried in the #Lunch with FT column are by now world famous and I consider artist #Ferguson’s caricatures for this column the very best in class.
AS A READER OF THE FT FOR MORE THAN TWO DECADES, I was rather surprised to learn of the sale first when #N. Ram of The Hindu tweeted about it rather sadly. He was probably worried about the future editorial freedom of the newspaper. Nikkei has been known to be less critical of local businesses in Japan and interestingly the accounting fraud at the Japanese technology company Olympus was first uncovered by the FT !! Nikkei has promised zero editorial interference with FT after the change of ownership. But this remains to be seen. One is not so sure if this freedom is as robustly ring fenced as that of The Guardian. The next few months will tell.