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Pearson profits fall on Net spend

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Media group Pearson has unveiled its annual results and suffered a 17 per cent fall in profits, placed squarely at the Internet's gates. The company which owns the Financial Times, as well as a huge portfolio of education and media companies, invested £196 million on Internet enterprises during the year.

Sales climbed 16 per cent to £3.87 billion and excluding Internet enterprises, operating profit went up 17 per cent to £686 million. With the Internet investment included, profit fell from £402 million to £333 million - although this was slightly higher than expectations.

Internet investment was split £113 million to the FTGroup - financial data and the like, including www.ft.com, FTMarketWatch (an online personal finance site) and online version of its French and Spanish newspapers. The remaining £83 million went on its education Web sites, largely the Learning Network - a grand teaching resource. Sales from the Internet side of things reached £42 million.

Pearson said it expected FT.com to break even in 2002 - it has already mooted plans to charge for premium content, according to the Sunday Times - and the Learning Network to do so in 2003. The company expects Internet investment to be much lower this year.

Apart from this the company is looking good - record profits from its main arms and several integrations, dumpings and mergers. Out goes Lazard investment houses, in comes publisher Dorling Kindersley and Pearson TV was shaken all about.

However, despite the fine words regarding the Internet and its offspring, the company also chose today to announce a new WAP phone venture with Carphone Warehouse. WAP phones, as you probably know, are rubbish, but Pearson reckons that FT-branded phones, with up-to-date financial information, is a sure-fire winner. We'd love to believe it, but anyone that closely interested in markets will already be kitted up with bleepers, pagers and the like which offer much stock quotes in real time.

Even if the FT gets the information as fast as people are used to, it still has the nightmare WAP menu process to go through (connecting... connecting... connecting). When (if) 3G phones come on the market, a few years expertise could stand it in good stead. ®

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