What’s in a business model???

Interesting speculation in the business media this week about whether Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters are in a potential bidding war for the Financial Times (which is not actually for sale?).

The New York Mayor seems to love the product, but hates the business model. Besides, Bloomberg is still playing around with Business Week.

For Lord Thomson of Fleet (the last remaining Press Baron?) it’s rather like deja vu – didn’t The Thomson Corporation (as was) offload all their newspapers in the ’90’s because print was so last century?

The FT was one of the first newspapers to construct a paywall around its content, and has created customer traction for a range of subscription, pay-as-you go and “freemium” sales models. It also remains a strong brand for global business news, and has a solid presence in Asia. But some commentators suggest that the pink’un is losing money, despite its on-line success, because of declining revenues from print advertising.

The main challenge for traditional business newspapers these days is not so much print vs digital (the FT has sort of got that worked out, and Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters are two of the largest online publishers for financial information). The real challenge is identifying and engaging the audience – who reads a business newspaper these days, and why, when there are so many on-line alternatives?

Despite current market challenges, Fairfax Media has always had a clear sense of its audience profile for the Australian Financial Review. As I understand it, the typical AFR reader is a C-Suite executive (current, former or aspirant), interested in what’s going on in the world and the impact of global events on their personal, corporate or sovereign wealth. In fact, unlike some other newspapers, there are no corporate or institutional customers of the AFR – all subscribers have to be individual readers, potentially making it easier to establish long-term relationships that survive career moves or other changes in personal circumstances.

However, the main difficulties for Fairfax are:

the cost of quality journalism and content in the face of declining revenues (hence the recent syndication deal with the FT in response to The Australian’s access to content from the Wall Street Journal?);

increased competition from numerous on-line entrants (most of which are free, the latest being Leading Company); and

the blurred boundary between the “personal” and the “professional” audience for informed news and commentary on a broad range of inter-connected topics – finance, politics, economics, business, technology, culture, sustainability, leadership….

All of which makes it rather difficult to see why anyone might want to acquire a newspaper business these days, unless for reasons of vanity – Baron Bloomberg of Southwark Bridge?

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