Tuesday, June 2, 2020

For the Financial Times, "this crisis makes us think about the future of the paper newspaper"

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Roula Khalaf, editor of the Financial Times, in September 2019, in London. Social Media / Charlie Bibby via REUTERS

She probably would have hoped for a less chaotic start. Two months after taking office as editor-in-chief Financial times ((FT), in mid-January, Roula Khalaf found himself managing the coronavirus crisis. With her screen in hand, on this day in mid-May, she toured the editorial office to show rows of empty desks by videoconference. After two months of confinement in the United Kingdom, barely five people are present at the headquarters of the British business daily, where there are normally close to 400 journalists (out of a total of 600 around the world). "Their return is not expected until September at the earliest. " Telecommuting is going well, however, "Better than I could have imagined".

For daily newspapers around the world, the pandemic represented a sudden acceleration of the digital switchover. Readers have never been more hungry for information. The site of Financial times records record after record, with an audience up 75%. "We thought we had reached a peak that we would not beat with Brexit. We are far above "explains Mme Khalaf. The FT, which has 1.1 million subscribers, including 932,000 digital subscribers, has gained 50,000 additional subscribers since the start of containment.

Read also The Financial Times Reaches One Million Subscribers

But, at the same time, traditional newspaper revenues are collapsing. In April, FT distributed an average of 88,000 copies a day in the UK, down 40% from the previous month. The daily managed not to interrupt printing or distribution to subscribers, but many outlets were closed. In Europe and the Middle East, distribution was also very disrupted.

Falling advertising revenues

In addition, the advertising collapsed. According to Enders Analysis, a consulting firm, British newspapers are currently experiencing a drop in "50% to 80%" of their advertising revenue.

"Additional subscribers do not compensate for falling revenues"

Conferences, another source of revenue, have almost all been eliminated. The FT however, has just organized a completely virtual one: 50,000 people have followed the interventions of some 100 decision-makers on the Internet, including the Governor of the Bank of England (BoE), Andrew Bailey, and the former Vice-President of United States Al Gore.

All in all, the deadweight loss is catastrophic. "Additional subscribers do not compensate for falling revenues", recognizes Mme Khalaf.

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