Publishers tap education to combat drop in print sales

David Matthews investigates attempts to entice students as next-generation subscribers

September 13, 2012

With consumers buying ever fewer newspapers and magazines, and advertising revenues squeezed by the recession, media organisations have been striking out into higher education.

Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, has launched a College of Fashion and Design that will open its doors to students in 2013. For £23,472, it will offer a year-long foundation diploma that promises internships at the publisher's titles for "a select handful of the college's most gifted students".

The Guardian newspaper has held talks with City University London and the University of Westminster about the possibility of establishing a £9,000-a-year digital journalism postgraduate course.

But a different approach is being tried by the Financial Times, explained chief executive John Ridding in an interview with Times Higher Education. Instead of linking to a particular higher education course, the newspaper is trying to win the affection of students by creating tools that will enable business schools to use the FT's journalism in their teaching and, at the same time, help the publication to create a new generation of subscribers.

MBA Newslines allows students and faculty to annotate online FT articles, create case studies that are built around real-life events, and share analysis between schools.

"We don't see this as a quick buck," said Mr Ridding, who was previously a correspondent and deputy editor of the paper. "The real thinking here is to develop the readership of the future. A newspaper or a news service must have some kind of emotional connection," which can be formed at university, he argued. "This is really about building subscribers of the future."

The attempt to attract students early in their careers is part of the FT's move away from print advertising revenues towards subscriptions.

Its global print circulation has gradually dwindled, but in July it announced that the number of digital subscribers had overtaken print circulation for the first time.

So far, 30 universities across the world have taken up the MBA Newslines service, including Cass Business School at City University London.

In the past, the FT has perhaps been seen as a paper read by people who have achieved "a certain degree of seniority", Mr Ridding said. But he now wants students to pick it up as readily as they would any other title.

The FT also offers an online "MBA Gym", where students can study courses in topics such as the Chinese property market and the eurozone crisis.

The initiative, while potentially profitable in its own right, is also primarily about "building audience" for the paper and digital products, he explained.

The move into education is a natural one because the FT is owned by education giant Pearson, Mr Ridding said, which now offers a business degree validated by Royal Holloway, University of London.

But Mr Ridding refuted the suggestion that the FT would create its own higher education courses.

"We want to be available to all and don't want to narrow our opportunity by just having one thing with our name on it," he said.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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