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The Financial Times, A Newspaper Success Story, Is Sold For $1.3 Billion

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the oldest and best-known newspapers in the world is now changing hands. The London-based Financial Times is being sold to Japan's Nikkei for $1.3 billion dollars. That's a lot of money in a time when most newspapers are struggling to survive. But as NPR's Chris Arnold reports, the FT has a lot going for it that others in the industry lack.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: (Speaking in English accent) The Financial Times, printed on salmon-colored paper, read by properly dressed gentlemen and ladies in airports. I'll stop with his accent now. Its editors go on TV to discuss - what else? - the economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times, joins me now to talk about can capitalism be reformed.

LIONEL BARBER: Capitalism is - and free markets are - the best model. But we also think that the benefits of capitalism need to be widely shared.

ARNOLD: But if you thought the Financial Times was just some old-fashioned British newspaper, you'd be wrong.

KEN DOCTOR: It's the most advanced major journalism company in the world.

ARNOLD: Ken Doctor is a media consultant who studies how newspapers have been disrupted by the Internet. And he says the Financial Times has figured out how to survive.

DOCTOR: It is the best example of a journalism company that has seized the advantage of the digital age.

ARNOLD: The FT, as it's called, designed a breakthrough approach to a so-called paywall for digital content. Ken Doctor says The New York Times, for example, basically copied the FT's approach. It's been a leader on understanding what its audience wants to read, who's reading what, when to charge money and when to give something away for free.

DOCTOR: And really figuring out their customers. They've got more than three dozen people in analytics. They're a knowledge farm as well as a publishing company. And putting those two together have put them in the forefront of global journalism.

ARNOLD: The FT's invested heavily in all of this in recent years.

DOCTOR: The tough transition they've been through is just now bearing fruit. But Nikkei has gotten a company that just tripled its profits. The FT tripled its profits over the last year.

ARNOLD: But the FT's parent company, Pearson PLC, is not doing so well. It's an educational publisher. And basically, it figures it needs the money it can get from selling the Financial Times to try to overhaul its core business. Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.