CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/FINANCE - Dailies examine the market for finance spin-offs. The FT will cut funds pages while other papers expand finance, Alasdair Reid says

There are two ways you can look at the Financial Times. On the one

hand, you can see it quite clearly as a business-to-business daily for

the City's financial markets, a trade paper that started doing a little

bit of real world news and really got a taste for it.



Or, on the other hand, you could regard it as just another quality

national newspaper but one that, for one reason or another, isn't scared

of numbers. And there are an awful lot of numbers towards the back end

of the FT. For the uninitiated, it can be pretty intimidating stuff.



Well, the good news for the number-blind is that we could be seeing less

of them in future. The FT is contemplating one of the most significant

changes it has embarked on in recent history - it might be dropping its

daily managed funds section, rounding up all the numbers currently

housed there and corralling them into a weekly A4 supplement.



Is this wise? Before the dotcom boom came along and muddied the waters,

the FT had for more than a decade been following a clear evolutionary

strategy based on maintaining its City heritage while building its

credentials as an increasingly broad-based newspaper. Heavens, it even

boasts sports pages these days. But previously, the strategy has always

been built on adding stuff - pagination, production values, broader

journalistic expertise, a greater geographical scope.



This is the first time we've seen evidence of the FT actually attempting

to modify one of its previously key financial market roles.



On the face of it, the rationale here is quite understandable. The world

has changed. The people who need to work with these fund numbers every

day will already have them, one way or another, available on screen. So

why lay waste the forests of Finland just to print vast screeds of

numbers that the majority of the title's readers (and potential readers)

don't want to know about?



On the other hand, there are signs that the move is causing all sorts of

internal angst. An FT spokesman told Campaign that any official comment

would be premature at this stage.



But one insider said: "There's all sorts of talk about adding reader

value by introducing editorial on managed funds, but the overall agenda

is one of cost-cutting. And it's not exactly regarded as a section with

advertising potential - it's a specialism within a specialism. This is

as dry a ghetto as you'll find in publishing."



Might this send the wrong signals to its core audience - which, after

all, is still clustered densely within the Square Mile? Steve Goodman,

MediaCom's press buying director, says that this is an interesting

move.



"I can certainly imagine some readers will be disappointed that the

service will no longer be available on a daily basis. I think they

should be careful each time they think about losing something about the

paper that makes it unique," he cautions.



Interestingly, the FT move comes at a time when two other nationals are

looking at financial spin-offs, albeit at the other end of the market

spectrum - personal finance. They're different too in that neither will

involve loss of coverage within the main titles. The Daily Telegraph,

for instance, is testing the water with a one-off magazine next January,

called Your Money. It will be published in partnership with Haymarket

Publications and, if successful, it could come out on a regular

basis.



The Mail on Sunday is being far less cautious. Having decided, as Chris

Grimes, the financial sales director of The Mail on Sunday puts it, "to

grab the bull by the horns", it is gearing up to launch a 100-page

glossy magazine, called Financial Mail on Sunday Money, which will sell

off the news-stand at a £2.50 cover price. The magazine's target

circulation is 100,000.



Are all three developments evidence of increasing fragmentation and

specialisation in the press market? Well, perhaps. And there might

actually be a different moral to be gleaned from these three very

different cases.



Alex Stitt, The Daily Telegraph's enterprise director, insists that the

big story in his paper's case is strategic co-operation.



"We are acknowledging that magazines are a different discipline," he

says. "Newspaper publishers don't necessarily have the expertise in

selling magazines off the news-stand. This is the first time that a

national newspaper is working in partnership with a major consumer

magazine company. That is the really interesting story here."



Whether organised through consumer publishers or in-house departments

such as The Mail on Sunday's finance desk, these supplements are clearly

becoming an important part of commercial strategy for their newspaper

sponsors. It remains to be seen whether the FT's move means the end for

a difficult area of financial coverage.



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