Financial Times finds new way to save newspapers

February 1, 2009

Maybe the real headline should be, “Financial Times finds old way to save newspapers.” It’s called the lawsuit. As reported by Cityfile:

You know we’re in a deep recession when even billionaire financiers can’t afford to pay for subscriptions to the Financial Times. In what will go down as one of the more bizarre (and unintentionally hilarious) lawsuits we’ve seen in quite some time, the newspaper filed a lawsuit against Steve Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group on Wednesday for sharing an FT username and password instead of setting up separate accounts for its employees. Yes, an unknown “senior employee” at the colossal private equity firm “authorized the initiation and repeated renewal of an individual, personal subscription to” and then distributed the login details to company employees so they could all join in on the fun. (The court documents list the username as “theblackstonegroup” and the password as “blackstone,” although FT says it has since “disabled the credentials to mitigate damages.”)

The New York Post gives us the background on why the situation is absurd on its face:

Blackstone’s penny-pinching ways stand in stark contrast to the way Schwarzman lives. Two years ago, his wife threw a $3 million 60th-birthday party for the buyout king that featured 500 guests, and included a performance by Rod Stewart. A Wall Street Journal story chronicled Schwarzman’s fondness for $40 crab legs and for running up weekend food bills of $3,000.

For MediaFile’s part, we see another tool that U.S. newspapers can employ to enrich their depleted coffers. Newspaper publishers usually wait for one among them to step forward and take action before falling in en masse (cutting dividends, laying off workers, etc), and we wonder why the lawsuit route should be any different.

Yes, there are differences between the FT and most U.S. newspapers. The FT charges hefty subscriptions to read the paper in print and online. (Online subscriptions run $179 to $299 a year, as the FT’s complaint states). That means there is a monetary value to “sharing.” Most U.S. newspapers charge nothing, but require registration.

Think about it this way, newspaper websites depend upon the information they glean through registration — including how many people have registered — to set rates that they charge advertisers. If the entire municipal staff in Anytown, Kansas, is sharing access to the Kansas City Star, it’s presenting a distorted picture to the paper, which then presents a distorted picture to advertisers. With ad revenue in free fall and the possibility that some big-city papers might die within weeks, it seems fair to imagine that a trip to the courthouse could result.

And here’s one more thing to think about: The FT’s tone in its lawsuit might come off as priggish when you consider how much rampant username/password abuse goes on in the nation’s offices these days — but if the paper wins, imagine all the rest of the gold out there just waiting to be mined. Oh yeah, it might be a good time to get your own FT and Wall Street Journal subscriptions. You’re doing a good deed by paying for the news.

(Photo: Reuters)


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Print media is certainly dying a not so slow death. We see it in our online marketing business as company’s pull traditional ad media spends in paper, radio and TV to pile it into search engines, paid search and email. Newspapers will survive but they will operate differently going forward. Brian Marchant-Calsyn

Posted by Brian Marchant-Calsyn | Report as abusive

Google gives a better service than FT and service to their viewer/user base is free. A large user base has to be attractive to advertisers. That is the way the world now operates in 2009.
The FT seves a purpose but there is nothing in the rag that cannot be found on the web.
Dinasor operation, Dinasor minds – next step FT will find itself a museum piece.

Posted by Tom Gielink | Report as abusive

Just because everybody shares passwords doesnt mean it is legal. I beg to differ with the author on that front.Tats similar to saying everybody pirates music, so it’s fine.

I think Blackstone’s also being quite stingy by not actually buying multiple accounts.

Posted by Mumbai | Report as abusive

Beg away, Mumbai. I don’t argue that sharing usernames and passwords is right or good or proper.

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

[…] significant step in the newspaper war for survival: the FT has sued a reader. In this case, it has sued the Blackstone Group for abusing a login that it let several different users use. This is common practice, and in effect […]

Posted by FT sues Blackstone « Qwerty2009’s Blog | Report as abusive

With all due respect, Tom Gielink, the issue is not whether the internet has more material than a 40-page newspaper. The issue is that Blackstone considers that it’s worthwhile to pay a premium for a reliable news service, much of whose content is exclusive, and filtered in a way that suits its needs.

Only, it isn’t paying for it. Utterly dishonest, but what do you expect from financiers?

Posted by Geoffrey Smith | Report as abusive

Yes – Geoffrey Smith you are right.
However imagine if all the Blackstone staff clicks were generating revenue for the FT.
There would be no need for court cases, the money would just roll in.

Posted by Tom Gielink | Report as abusive

Steve Schwarzman has a major management undertaking considering the diversity, size and complexity of his investments.

It is doubtfull that he was aware of the pirating of FT login or clonning.

What the press will do to create stories of the Rich and Famous goes beyond common sense. Wouldn’t a private & descrete settlement between FT and BS been more appropriate?

Next thing we’ll see is a news story comparison of Schwarzman to Madoff. Anyting to sell papers!

Posted by Forest Run | Report as abusive