Raymond Snoddy on media: FT is worth it but must promote why

If you wanted to know this week what is driving bond prices or why 'the folly of the Fed' is now plain for all to see, there was really only one place to go. And if, for some unaccountable reason, you were interested in understanding why setting an effective tax rate of 5% for multimillionaire private-equity artistes was quite a good idea, ditto. But it will cost you - £1.30 to be precise.

The natural exuberance created by an average sales increase of no less than 1500 copies over the past 12 months has somehow translated this week into a 30% cover price rise at the Financial Times.

Suicidal? More like good business and charging what the market will bear five years since the last rise.

The history of whopping cover-price rises at the FT suggests there will be little, if any, effect on circulation. If you are the sort of person who feels they need the paper, or at the very least want to display it on their desk, what's 30p? In the distant past, a hefty price rise could even be accompanied by a rise in circulation, as long as the Stock Market was also in a buoyant mood, as it is now.

The FT is in extremely good company. The price of the US edition of the Wall Street Journal will rise by 50% next month, albeit to the considerably cheaper $1.50 (75p).

Rupert Murdoch understands these things well. With a grin, he recently told his own Fox News channel that the 'value of financial journalism - high-quality financial journalism - is that you can charge for it'.

Both the FT and the WSJ should indeed be elite products able to command a premium price. The slight problem is that almost all their core potential readers have a panoply of the latest financial and industrial information on-screen from providers such as Reuters and Bloomberg. As one sniffy senior analyst put it of the FT a while back: 'I don't need an aggregator of 24-hour-old news.' (It should be noted, however, that said senior analyst isn't one any more, but is now in financial PR.)

One senior partner of a very big City law firm negotiated a special deal with the FT to supply copies for his young lawyers. Alas, the pile of free papers remained virtually untouched as they apparently thought - wrongly - that they could get all the news they needed from the internet.

The moral of such stories is clear. To charge premium prices and get the attention of what should be your core audience you need world-class news and views - the sort of information that moves markets. It's a tall order to do that every day.

You also need world-class marketing of the quality that has been produced for The Economist year after year. The strapline 'No FT: No Comment' was always a bit clunky. The retread - 'We live in financial times' is cute, but scarcely amounts to a call to action.

This week, however, the big question is whether the £1.30 FT is going to put one over on Murdoch and buy the 75p Wall Street Journal. The story of a possible joint bid for the WSJ's parent company, Dow Jones, by Pearson with GE, owner of the CNBC business-TV channel, was extensively covered in Saturday's FT.

Will Dame Majorie Scardino go head-to-head in a $5bn (£2.5bn)-plus takeover battle with Murdoch? It doesn't sound like the Pearson culture, and anyway, competition regulators might have something to say about the coming together of the world's two biggest financial newspaper publishers.

Unlike News Corp, Pearson is not exactly run like a personal fiefdom and cannot afford to get involved in an open-ended bidding war, no matter how much you can charge for all that financial stuff.

30 SECONDS ON ... FINANCIAL TIMES

- The FT was founded as the four-page London Financial Guide in January 1888 and renamed Financial Times the following month.

- It was first produced on salmon-pink paper in 1893, distinguishing it from the rival Financial News. The two papers would eventually merge in 1946, forming a six-page paper.

- The FT began its international expansion in the 70s; it is now printed in 23 locations around the world, with three international editions for the UK, continental Europe, and the US and Asia.

- The paper was acquired by Pearson in 1957, the same year the media company bought a 50% stake in The Economist.

- Dame Marjorie Scardino became the first woman chief executive of a FTSE 100 company when she was appointed to the role at Pearson in 1997.

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