Anyone interested in goings-on in the media world is likely to have seen the news on Thursday that The Financial Times, the international newspaper for which Nick and I write weekly, has been sold by UK publishing company Pearson to the Japanese news conglomerate Nikkei. The news came as a bolt from the blue even to the FT's own newsroom, whose members were convinced that their paper was about to be sold to the Axel Springer group of Germany.
We have now had time to digest the news and are very pleased by it - especially if the new Japanese owners follow the hands-off model described in my article A yen for quality about Japanese ownership of wine producers, published two years ago. Pearson, owners of Penguin, the publishers of Wine Grapes, incidentally, had already decided to concentrate their efforts on educational publishing and so a sale was long expected. Nikkei's chief publication, the eponymous Japanese newspaper, is widely admired and often known as the FT of Japan.
There will doubtless be useful synergies and I'm sure Nikkei have made the investment with very long-term global goals in mind. Part of the FT's appeal to Nikkei is thought to be its unusually successful transition to the digital era (70% of subscriptions are already for ft.com rather than for the paper version). The FT's biggest market is the US, followed by the UK, and then it is sold around the world (which is why I tend to write much less about UK retailers in my FT articles than most British wine columnists). I'm glad of course that food and now wine are so important to Japanese culture, and am also particularly pleased that, quite coincidentally, Nick and I were already planning to revisit Japan after many years next March.
Felix Salmon's article in the New York Times is particularly complimentary about what this move means for both Nikkei and the FT. Our editor Lionel Barber is equally thrilled. So, all in all, it's good news - particularly in view of the likely disadvantages of some of the other possible owners.
To celebrate the sale I am taking the next four weeks off my FT duties (Nick will start his four-week break after his column is published next Saturday) and, as usual, the estimable Andrew Jefford will be keeping my seat on the increasingly notional pink pages warm.
Pearson are clearly pleased with the £844 million ($1.3 billion) received for the FT. But then they were probably pleased with the £110 million they received for their majority share of Ch Latour way back in 1989 - the year Nick started writing for the FT and one year before I did. Clever François Pinault to have picked up this gem of a Bordeaux first growth for a mere £86 million in 1993. Mind you, to judge from my brief visit there last week, he has been spending like crazy on storage space for all those wines not released en primeur.