Tablets drive the digital march of the FT

Pearson, the parent of the Financial Times, yesterday hailed the strong growth of the newspaper's digital operations, driven by the popularity of tablet computers such as the iPad.

Chief executive Dame Marjorie Scardino said that the rise of online readers meant the US was now an "emerging market" for the FT.

The FTSE 100 company makes the bulk of its revenues from its vast education business, but also owns well- known brands including the book publisher Penguin as well as the FT.

The company's finance director, Robin Freestone, also revealed yesterday that it has a £500m war chest to target acquisitions around the world.

Sales at FT Group, the division whose operations include the newspaper, saw underlying growth of 6 per cent in the first half of the year to £203m. The management has set about overhauling the business model towards digital.

Digital subscriptions rose a third to almost 230,000 and registered users were up by almost half to 3.7 million. Dame Marjorie highlighted the shift by saying: "The advertising market is less and less of interest. It is now more about content revenues, such as subscriptions."

Readers access about 22 per cent of the FT's content on their mobile devices, including tablets. Dame Marjorie said: "The FT's digital growth is driven by tablets," adding that growth was "astonishing".

The US looks a particularly strong market for growth as some papers do not make it to some parts of the country until midday. She said that FT chief executive John Ridding called it "an emerging market, with all the new opportunities posed by digital".

The company also saw good digital growth in its Penguin arm, with ebook revenues soaring 130 per cent. However, the decline of its print copies meant the numbers ended flat.

"We're already printing fewer books," Dame Marjorie said, although she admitted the ebook revenues made up just 5 per cent of the UK market.

Separately, the company announced it would continue its acquisition strategy, after sealing deals across the globe in the first half, with £500m set aside. She added that there were "a lot of things going on".

Group sales at Pearson were up 6 per cent to £2.4bn, with profits up 20 per cent to £208m. Education sales rose almost a tenth, while profits rose 30 per cent. The core North American market was 3 per cent lower on a tough comparable period.

Dame Marjorie said market conditions had been "anything but easy", but said the board was "sufficiently encouraged by our start to the year to raise both our guidance and our dividend".

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