Pearson PLC said it sold the unit that includes the Financial Times, one of the marquee names in English-language financial journalism, to Nikkei Inc. for $1.3 billion in cash.
The sale ends years of speculation about the fate of the Financial Times, a rare success story in the search for journalism business models in the digital age but an awkward fit for Pearson as it focuses on its core education business.
"Pearson has been a proud proprietor of the FT for nearly 60 years," John Fallon, Pearson's chief executive, said in a statement Thursday. "But we've reached an inflection point in media, driven by the explosive growth of mobile and social. In this new environment, the best way to ensure the FT's journalistic and commercial success is for it to be part of a global, digital news company."
Fallon added: "Pearson will now be 100% focused on our global education strategy. The world of education is changing profoundly and we see huge opportunity to grow our business through increasing access to high quality education globally."
While a sale of the FT had been the subject of media chatter for years, the buyer took media circles by surprise. Tokyo-based Nikkei calls itself the largest independent business media group in Asia and owns an array of Asian-based financial and business publications, including a flagship eponymous newspaper.
"I am extremely proud of teaming up with the Financial Times, one of the most prestigious news organizations in the world," said Tsuneo Kita, Nikkei's chairman and chief executive. "Our motto of providing high-quality reporting on economic and other news, while maintaining fairness and impartiality, is very close to that of the FT."
With its distinctive salmon-colored newsprint, the Financial Times gained a foothold in the U.S. market with a big expansion in the late 1990s. It has gained acclaim for its internationally focused journalism and, in recent years, for its successes in transforming from a print-only business model to a digitally driven one.
In 2007, it became one of the first papers to successfully implement a paywall allowing online readers access to a limited number of stories before requiring them to subscribe. By 2012, the FT had become the first paper to generate more revenue from digital sources than from print and more from subscriptions than from advertisers, reversing newspapers' longstanding business model.
The FT said it has a combined paid print and digital circulation of 737,000, an increase of 30% over the last five years, with digital circulation growing to represent 70% of the total, from 24%.
Pearson's FT Group also owns a 50% stake in the Economist magazine.