Is it ‘FT’ time in the U.S. at last?

By: Jennifer Saba

Rupert who? The Wall Street Journal may be on the lips of just about every media watcher these days, but its competitor from abroad is quietly making a comeback stateside. The Financial Times has increased its U.S. circulation and, also improbably, has increased its advertising revenue.

On these shores the FT, as it is popularly known, reported that in 2007 ? an all-around miserable year for the industry ? print ad revenue advanced 10% while online revenue rose 53% compared with 2006. With a daily circulation of about 152,240 in America as of February 2008, it’s still dwarfed by the Journal (with roughly two million in circ) but it rose by 4% in 2007 over the previous year.

Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, attributes the turnaround to many things, but mostly good-old fashioned journalism: “We’re breaking stories, and people want to buy the paper,” he says from the newspaper’s U.S. headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

The mortgage/lending meltdown has been a boon to the salmon-hued paper. “The crisis played to our strengths,” Barber says. “It’s a technical subject that is now mainstream.”

While still waffles on what to do with its paywall, the FT is making some interesting moves. Last October,, which required a subscription, started allowing free access to up to 30 stories a month for anyone, opening up the site significantly. After that, readers are expected to pony up about $109 annually. “We did not want to go fully free,” Barber says. “Our content has value.”

Naturally, traffic grew. doubled its number of page views and increased the number of registered users by 66% to 250,000. After viewing five stories, users are asked to register. Total subscriptions are on the rise, up 30% in 2007 with 102,000 subscribers as of March.

The FT decided in December it didn’t want its content to be made available to aggregation sources like Factiva (coincidentally owned by Dow Jones). So it cut out the middleman: If a business wants to license the FT’s content, it now has to arrange that directly with the newspaper.

Barber, who has been with the FT since 1985 and served stints as its Washington correspondent and U.S. editor, is wistful about the paper’s U.S. history. There were three people in D.C. and five in New York just 20 years ago, he recalls. Now the FT has about 65 journalists in this country. Barber recalls the detractors upon the official launch of its U.S. edition in 1995: “It was like the Redcoats [were] coming, and we would get thrust back into the ocean,” he says. “We’ve got a few friends now.”

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