Is paid content the online future of the newspaper business? While there’s plenty of discussion and debate on the subject, if you listen to enough newspaper executives, you might come away with the impression that they think it has to be.

But while many newspapers contemplate paid content and talk up their plans, The Financial Times has actually been executing a paid content strategy.

As noted by paidContent:UK, in 2000, The Financial Times Group generated nearly three-quarters of its revenue from advertising in 2000. Last year, that number had been brought below 50%. And it’s not done yet.

It has now added another property to its portfolio of online properties built on paid content. SchemeXpert.com is a site covering the pension business, and like the other niche sites in the FT Group’s stable, SchemeXpert.com employs the same model: produce valuable content for lucrative, specialist markets, give non-subscribers a small taste of that content, and charge for full access.

Obviously, the FT Group is in a position many other publishers aren’t. It has largely built its brand by serving professionals, namely those in the financial markets, and its brand and focus give it the ability to create new offerings in lucrative niches within the finance industry. Offerings, of course, that it can charge for.

But more important than the FT Group’s market position is the fact that it has followed an approach that many others haven’t: it decided that its content was worth paying for, decided to limit the amount it gives away for free, and actually executed on a plan to charge for content. Now with its model proven, it can scale out with relative ease, something that newspapers stuck in a painful form of business model purgatory simply can’t do because their models, in many cases, still only exist on paper.

The lesson here, of course, is simple: being decisive counts for a lot. The Financial Times business model may not work for every newspaper company, but having a business model you can believe in is the first step in getting a publishing company on the right track.