Overhauling the FT is wise in a tough broadsheet sector

Newspaper publishers are spending bucketloads of money on their products: a sure sign that they are getting desperate for readers as competition, particularly in the broadsheet market, hots up, writes Ian Darby.

The latest lavish relaunch is from the Financial Times, which is spending £3m on its weekend and weekday editions. This follows The Daily Telegraph's recent tweaking that saw the cobwebs fall from its masthead (if not its worldview), and a statement of intent from The Times that a redesigned paper will appear before the end of the year.

All three titles are facing falling circulations and, equally worrying, an uncertain advertising market. The FT last week said its advertising revenues for the past year were down 18%. Faced with turning a loss of £6m in the last six months of 2002 into a profit at a time when its core City readership is shrinking, the FT is trying to pull off that difficult trick of bringing in new advertisers and readers while not alienating the few remaining bowler hats in the Square Mile.

And the tinkering goes further than the changes made at The Telegraph. Each of the FT's 147,580 readers in the UK (453,282 globally) will have noticed (or so its editor, Andrew Gowers, hopes) new introductions, such as a glossy Saturday magazine, a daily sports page, cleaner design, extended features and a greater emphasis on lifestyle in the weekend edition.

Media buyers seem to like the changes and especially the introduction of the Saturday magazine that will offer consumer advertisers a chance to reach an affluent audience at less of a premium than the FT's more occasional How to Spend It. Press directors predict slight circulation increases for the FT and say that potential new advertisers will at least view the title in a new light.

Gowers has stated his intention to make the paper a "more complete read", presumably because readers are now more likely to take a single paper each morning than the FT for business news and another title for general news and sport. This might well work -- the news sections look more accessible and offer a wider perspective on business and general news. However, Monday's sports page provided just one football and one rugby game review alongside a round-up of Premier League results. Hardly in-depth, but then if you're a captain of industry with little time on your hands rather than a journalist capable of watching the entire four hours of Sky's Soccer AM each and every weekend, this is probably more than enough information.

There is no denying that a revival in the City's fortunes is the most important factor in the success or not of the FT but, faced with difficult times, it has at least acted knowing that SARS is just the latest malady in a series of world events that look set to hold back the global economy for the foreseeable future.

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