Something for the Weekend: 'FT' puts on its Sunday best

The paper's chief executive tells Margareta Pagano how it came back from the dead and outlines his plans for seven-day readership

The Financial Times is set to break the mould again when it relaunches its FT Weekend edition for Sunday readers with a big marketing campaign later this spring.

Already one of the highest-circulation Saturday newspapers in the UK, the FT is working on secret plans to make the edition work just as well on the next day.

"Our Weekend edition is our Sunday newspaper," declares John Ridding, chief executive of the newspaper. "Our move to grow Sunday sales is demand led. It has come from readers who've been asking their newsagents for more copies."

While the FT doesn't break down its sales, the Weekend edition is the highest of the week.

Ridding describes the imminent changes as "enhancements" – a refreshing of the edition rather than a bumper package featuring new supplements. FT Weekend editor Andy Davis is rebranding the paper with the Weekend stamp throughout the sections. Expect changes to Life & Arts while the magazine will be "revamped". New columnists are coming on board – star fund manager Anthony Bolton has just been signed up – to tempt readers to stay pink all weekend.

"That's all I can say for now," adds Ridding. We meet in his sixth-floor office at the FT's Southwark Bridge perch, with its fabulous view spanning east to west along the Thames. Quite rightly he's in the finest of moods: a few days before, the FT group had disclosed record profits and sales when Pearson, its parent company, reported results.

"Our Weekend move is all part of building our niche, global brand. There is so much in the edition which is relevant for Sunday readers. Take 'Lunch with the FT' – one of the best things we do – that isn't time-related."

There is good news at the daily FT too: it's the only quality newspaper in the world to be increasing readership. Sales are up 1.5 per cent to 140,000 in the UK, up 6 per cent to 146,000 in the US, and around the world it is selling 447,000 a day, with 470,000 on peak days.

The Pearson group never strips out the FT's profits and it's a "no comment" from Ridding. But informed estimates point to a doubling of profit to £30m on sales of nearly £300m – an extraordinary turnaround considering the FT's blood-red losses four years ago and falling circulation among its rivals.

Those predicting the death of newspapers have got it wrong, adds Ridding. "Look at us – we have proved that print is not dead. We have shown that if you invest in quality journalism, it leads to higher circulation – certainly in the high-end niche, global-business market in which we work. "Print now works alongside online, video and other digital means of journalism, with one feeding off the other. Our site [which charges for access] is bringing us new readers all the time. It's a virtuous circle."

Giving away newspapers or online content for free, he says, is neither necessary nor sensible. He doesn't name new usurpers, like City A.M. or competitors such as Rupert Murdoch's News International, the new owners of The Wall Street Journal, but his message is clear. Nor is the FT worried by Murdoch's purchase of the Journal, saying: "I don't see the move as a big battle between two media titans – us and them. The market is much more fragmented and competitive than that. We are a very different global brand."

However, he adds that Murdoch's predilection for hiring FT journalists to edit his papers – Robert Thomson, now at the Journal, and James Harding at The Times – only serves to "underline the FT's talent".

Ridding says the paper's circulation has been helped by the greatest business story of recent times – the international credit crunch – which informed its latest advertising campaign, "We live in Financial Times". But that's not the whole story. "People do read more and better comment and analysis when times are tough. But we have invested heavily in our journalists – we have more than 500 around the world – and we are still recruiting, in Asia and the Middle East."

It was not so long ago that the doomsters were calling the FT's own demise: readers were deserting it, the brand was tired while editorial influence was waning. Rivals argued that the paper had overstepped its territory, going too global and leaving behind its UK constituency – and that its cosy relations with contacts meant it rarely broke stories. There were attempts to buy the paper, including by wishful former FT journalists.

But Pearson's chief executive, Dame Marjorie Scardino stuck firm, refusing to discuss a sale. Instead, around two and a half years ago, she backed a clever hunch by making Lionel Barber editor, and then she moved Ridding from Hong Kong, where he was editor and publisher, back to London.

Ridding, indecently young for such a job at 42, had worked closely with Barber when he was in Brussels and Ridding was in Paris, and they continue to do so.

There is no doubt the pair have had a sensational impact, turning the FT from what was a duty read into a compelling one.

Ridding accepts 2007 was a turning point, if not the most pivotal year in the paper's 120-year-old history. "We had a failing brand, falling circulation and editorial was weak. Our global strategy was treated with scepticism, and many thought we were mad to launch in the US and Hong Kong. I have to say we do feel vindicated now, but we are careful to stay local too to our home market. But our world is global: if you are a UK businessman who wants to make shoes in China, you need to know exactly what is going on there – and vice-versa."

His work in Asia and Europe helped prepare him for the switch. "As an FT reporter for 15 years, I covered some big business collapses – in the telecoms and shipping industries. Listening to businessmen telling me about their work helped me think out my own philosophy."

Is there any bad news? Ridding can't think of any. Even if the world economy continues to deteriorate, he's confident the FT can stay strong. The paper been helped by growing new sources of income, making it less dependent on advertising – a third of all newspaper sales are subscription and there are fees from online services and other data. Meanwhile, China is a great example of how marrying online and print could work. The Chinese, which now has more than a million users, is creating a platform for when, and if, the market opens up for a print edition. "Even Lucy Kellaway's column works well in Chinese," says Ridding.

Advertising online is up by 40 per cent and monthly unique users on the site are up 30 per cent to 5.7 million. FT Alpha-ville, the daily markets blog, now has a regular 100,000 users a month, while television is booming too with 100 videos a month. "Business seems to love the immediacy of the TV interviews and journalists like doing them too. We hope we can double these numbers this year," he says. Other signs of the times include the £2,000-a-year membership of Executive Forum – a sort of grown-up Facebook-style networking club for media and technology types.

"It's about giving our global audience premium quality, great comment and news. No one seems to have a problem paying."

As for editorial, expect more breaking stories. Scoops are becoming a habit for FT reporters: they broke the story of Gordon Brown's "Stalinist" approach and unearthed details on Northern Rock. What this means for the FT's pinkish political stance, a move that choked the City when it first came out for Labour, is anyone's guess now.

Ridding won't say what position the paper will take, if any, at the next election. "That's Lionel's zone," he replies promptly. But he has been inspired by the excitement of the fight between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the US elections, and even watched Obama dancing during his chat-show interview with Ellen on US television. "God, I wish I could dance like that."

John Ridding

Age: 42

Education: First-class honours, PPE, Oxford

Career: First job at Oxford Analytica on the Asia desk.

Joined 'FT' in 1987, working as editor and publisher of 'FT' Asian, Hong Kong bureau chief, Paris correspondent and Korea correspondent. In Britain, he worked on the foreign desk and UK companies desk and is now chief executive.

Favourite book: 'The Road', by Cormac McCarthy

Football team: Leeds United, despite its troubles

Favourite holiday: scuba-diving, to escape mobile phones

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Shami Chakrabarti
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker