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May 9, 2024updated 14 May 2024 10:16am

Le Monde’s Olympian effort to attract more English-language subscribers

French title is targeting 1m subscribers and attracts 5m readers a month to its English website.

By Charlotte Tobitt

French newspaper brand Le Monde is hoping to make the most of the Paris Olympics and US election this year to sign up more English-language subscribers.

Le Monde in English launched two years ago, translating around half of its daily French output into English to appeal to a broader range of potential subscribers outside its home market.

It is hoped that the Le Monde in English strategy will help the French title reach its target of one million subscribers by the end of 2025.

Currently Le Monde, which made an operating profit of €9.7m (£8.3m) in 2023, down slightly from €10m in 2022, has 610,000 subscribers, of which 540,000 are digital-only.

Subscriptions make up almost 50% of revenues, with advertising on 23% and the rest coming from newsstand sales and other revenue streams.

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Arnaud Aubron, head of development at Le Monde, told Press Gazette that Le Monde in English now makes up 10% of all new subscribers to the overall brand.

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Le Monde’s English language website gets around five million visits a month, compared to more than 150 million for the main French online edition.

Aubron told Press Gazette Le Monde in English is on a “secondary strategy”: “We don’t think that any reader is going to cancel their New York Times subscription or Guardian or anything for Le Monde. But probably for some people who are really interested in news, they can have two, three, four subscriptions to media.”

Around 30 articles a day, those which are deemed to have the most interest to an international audience, are translated using AI tool DeepL.

The translations are proofread by ten professional translators who work at an American translation agency before they are checked again and curated by a team of eight journalists at Le Monde – six based in Paris and two in Los Angeles.

Le Monde: ‘We are open to the world’

Aubron said having an English version of Le Monde was an “old idea” but was “made possible” by the recent massive progress in automated translation tools.

“When we launched the online project, we discovered that 50 years ago there was a print edition of Le Monde in English already,” he said. “I don’t think it lasted for long but it’s just to say that it has always been an idea for Le Monde to have an English edition.

“As our name says we are open to the world and so being open to the world today also means speaking in English.”

As well as the articles on the website Le Monde now has an American journalist based in its Paris newsroom who re-records the spoken audio for some of its Youtube videos to reach different audiences.

Since the initial launch Le Monde has also launched a bilingual app which Aubron said meant people were “much more engaged and you can see that you get more page views for each visit. You get more visits in a month… once the people subscribe, they jump to the app, and then they begin to read much more articles.”

The Le Monde team have been pleased, and at least a little surprised, by the amount of interest they have seen in stories about French cultural life, like its food and restaurants.

Aubron said: “I would say we’ve got three different types of interests in the readership. One is what’s happening in France.

“One is what’s happening inside each reader’s country,” he said, saying there are people in the UK for example who are interested in what French journalists have to say about what’s going on here.

Before working at Le Monde Aubron led a weekly magazine within the same company called Courrier International that translates foreign press articles into French. “Our readers were really interested in what British journalists were saying about France,” he said. “It was always a great hit… and we witnessed the same thing the other way around [at Le Monde].”

He added: “And the third main interest is the international reports, because Le Monde has nearly 70 foreign correspondents and so people are really interested to read what our war correspondents in Ukraine or our correspondents in China or anywhere in the world are saying, because we’ve got so many people working abroad for us.”

Why people might come to Le Monde for US election and Olympics news

Around half of the Le Monde in English stories are paywalled with the other half kept free to all. Around ten to 15 newswire stories are also published each day in English for free.

American readers are the biggest market for Le Monde in English: around half of its subscribers and one-third of its audience is in the US, Aubron said.

He suggested this was in part because the American market is “much more mature for news subscriptions” than many others.

Of the upcoming US presidential election, he added that they have found people in the US are interested in “a foreign view on what’s happening in the country”.

Another major opportunity, he said, is the Olympic Games coming to Paris in July and August and providing information for English-speaking visitors to the city.

Aubron said: “Everybody’s eyes will be turned to Paris and so, as we are the main French newspaper, we hope that some people will be interested in having the news direct from a French newspaper and it’s really exciting for Le Monde in English to have this opportunity.

“We are now trying to imagine how we can reach the people who are going to come to Paris… if you are British, American or any English-speaking country, you’re in Paris for the Olympics, you want to get news, be it news on the Olympics, or around what’s happening in Paris at that time because people are not going to spend the whole week in the Olympic Stadium. And so they will also want to enjoy the cultural life and the restaurants and they will also be interested in knowing how is the subway doing, that kind of thing. And I guess the best way to have this information is to have access to a French newspaper.”

Asked what the hardest parts of Le Monde’s international strategy have been to implement, Aubron said “everything”, citing several tech challenges.

He pointed to the speed of building the website, which happened in about six months, creating the link between the French and English sites, and plugging the translator agency into the process.

“We had to define what the process is,” he said. “We had to find the right balance of how many times we have to read the articles after the artificial intelligence so yeah, everything has been a challenge.

“I would say that for the first year, year and a half, we really focused on the products because you cannot build a successful and rich market if you don’t have a good product… and then I would say that for the past six months and for the months ahead we are more focusing on broadening our audience.”

As well as the usual social media methods, this marketing, Aubron said, includes an ongoing partnership with The New York Times where each newsbrand promotes the other’s subscription offering.

Le Monde now hopes to replicate this type of partnership with other media brands: “I think it’s a good thing for us in our strategy because we are really on a second read strategy and so the people who are going to subscribe to Le Monde in English are people who are already subscribers to media websites, definitely, and so it’s a good strategy to reach them within their media,” Aubron said.

High penetration rate? ‘I hope it’s because we do good journalism’

Overall Le Monde digital subscriptions are taken up by about 1.9% of the possible French audience – double the rate in the US of The New York Times, considered an industry leader, on 0.8%.

Aubron noted Le Monde, which last month had a historic change of ownership into a non-profit endowment fund, began its digital subscriber strategy early – about 15 years ago.

“We hope to reach by the end of 2025 one million subscribers but after that, we don’t know what percentage of the population can subscribe to the same media. Is it 3%, 4%, 5%? We don’t know.

“So it’s also one of the reasons why we’re targeting people abroad – when you are leader of your market, you don’t know what’s the glass ceiling there and so it’s important to try to reach new markets.”

He added: “But how does it come that we got that big percentage of French people reading Le Monde? I hope it’s because we do good journalism.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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