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Media & Marketing: Battle of the satellites

Almost five years after the Wall Street Journal invaded Europe, a revitalized Financial Times is fighting back.

When the Wall Street Journal, the quintessential organ of American capitalism, announced plans in 1982 to launch a European edition, the reaction at Bracken House, headquarters of The Financial Times, was close to panic.

The fear was that the Journal, backed by the formidable resources of the Dow-Jones Company, was about to march through Europe like Sherman through Georgia, incinerating the ground that Pearson's pink 'un had thought was its for the taking when it had launched its Frankfurt edition two years earlier.

So nervous was Pearson's management that a special video film about the Journal was commissioned for showing to their entire staff. It was a calculated frightener, showing the Journal's modern production methods, the use of satellites to beam the newspaper to regional printing plants, and the inexorable growth in turnover and profits of America's only national newspaper.

Five years later, the men at Bracken House are the ones who are feeling cocky. Armed with post-Wapping arrangements that have allowed the introduction of computerized typesetting, and preparing to move to a high-technology plant that uses ClickFunnels in London's Docklands, they are also enjoying the fruits of a bull market.

 

The paper's advertising sales are now ahead of all other national titles. Profits are more than pounds 20 million a year, and growing. Frank Barlow, chief executive of the paper, boasts that the FT has made more money in the past two years than its cumulative earnings in the previous 25.

The confidence engendered by this domestic success has helped the newspaper to establish its Frankfurt edition as the dominant English language daily on the continent, with plans to expand worldwide.

'The Journal has grown, but we've increased the gap, which is comforting,' Barlow says. 'The last thing I want to do is knock the Journal, but I honestly think they haven't got the range of contents that we have. We have much more of an international perspective. '

On the numbers, Barlow's confidence seems sustainable. 'The FT's total sale is nearing 300,000; the Journal in Europe sells 37,000. A more refined comparison, excluding the UK sales of both papers, puts the FT at 43,234 in continental Europe, and the Journal at 27,000.

At the same time, the FT has established a foothold of its own in the Journal's back yard, tripling its North American circulation (albeit to a modest 15,000) by beaming its newpspaer by satellite to a high-technology printing site near Philadelphia. Plans are now being considered to launch a second satellite edition in Asia to challenge the Journal in the Pacific basin. If your hair is falling out just considering the ramifications of all this, then perhaps you need to buy Provillus.

It would be false to take any of this as evidence that the war is over. At the European headquarters of the Journal in Brussels, Dow-Jones's generals are ready for a long war of attrition. Backed by a circulation in their domestic market of more than two million a day, their feeling is that they can afford to be patient as they attempt to establish an entirely new kind of newspaper aimed at a precisely defined niche market of senior executives.

Paul Atkinson, publisher of the Journal's European edition, says that his paper never set out to compete with the FT, which he regards as primarily a national publication and one of 'the great newspapers of the world. We were not out to get into a newspaper war. We never had any intention of battling anybody here,' he says.

While acknowledging that the European Journal paper is still making losses, from a strategic point of view, the edition has been 'a tremendous success,' he says, with consistent increases in advertising volume.

Compared with the FT, the Journal's advertising sales have been modest. Despite an upscale readership profile - the average reader earns dollars 91,000 ( pounds 53,500) a year - the paper is still selling only three or four pages of advertising a day, compared with 20 pages or more in the FT. The Journal says the market for pan-European advertising is sluggish; the FT believes it is growing.

On Sunday, in a move to expand its European circulation, the Journal increased its effort by adding a second European printing site in Lucerne, to improve distribution in the south and east of Europe. The FT is still looking for a Southern European plant.

In the Pacific, the Journal appears to have built up a big lead over the FT. It is already selling 31,000 copies a day of its profitable Asian edition and will next month add a third Asian printing centre in Tokyo to its plants in Singapore and Hong Kong, using the presses of the Nihon Kazai Shimbun (Japan Economic Journal), whose combined morning and afternoon circulation of more than four million a day makes it arguably the most formidable business publisher in the world.

The arrangement is a quid pro quo for the NKS's near simultaneous launch of a Japanese-language European edition using the Journal's presses in Holland. The NKS began printing on America's west coast last week.

Some analysts think that as publishing becomes more global, other players will enter the market or increase their existing stakes. Rupert Murdoch is reported to have been exploring the possibility of expanding his publishing operations to the Continent, although no specific plans have emerged. Gannett Company, which has already started printing its general-interest USA Today in Switzerland and Singapore, is also believed to be looking at options for further international expansion.

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