Le Monde in English Misses Lofty Subscriber Goals But Remains 'Optimistic'

The French publisher aims to reach 1 million total subscribers by 2025 aided by Olympics

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French news publisher Le Monde launched its English-language product, Le Monde in English, two years ago, with the goal of generating 30,000 subscribers by the end of 2023.

It has since fallen short of that goal, according to business development officer Arnaud Aubron, though the publisher declined to provide an update on its exact subscriber count.

Despite this, the company is looking on the bright side, continuing its worldwide play with the goal of hitting 1 million subscribers overall revised to 2025 and focusing on Olympic-sized opportunities for Le Monde in English.

The French publisher, which has 540,000 digital subscribers and 610,000 overall, made headlines when it announced its intention to break into the English-speaking market in April 2022 and set its 2025 subscription goal.

Since then, Le Monde in English has made significant progress in its bid to achieve standalone profitability by 2027, according to Aubron.

The eight-person team has reduced the cost of its translation process by a third—from $3 million to $2 million—and grown its monthly readership to nearly 5 million people. Le Monde in English is also responsible for bringing in roughly 10% of all new subscribers.

“We did not hit our goal, but we are optimistic,” Aubron said. “We see the number of subscribers growing—we just need to build awareness of the brand.”

Parlez-vous English?

Le Monde in English is far from the first publisher to eye international expansion. American outlets such as The New York Times, Bloomberg and Politico have made significant inroads into European and Asian markets in recent years, while U.K. publishers, including The Guardian, Financial Times and Economist, have sought to expand their presence in the U.S.

Despite the competition, the outlet stood apart from its peers in its plan to use artificial intelligence, along with a team of translators and journalists, to turn its French reporting into English copy. If the strategy worked, it could prove the viability of tapping into new geographies by taking advantage of advancements in translation technology.

The early results have been mixed, which is partially a function of timing, according to Abi Watson, senior media analyst at Enders Analysis. By the time Le Monde launched its English-language product in 2022, many members of its target audience—English-speaking news consumers with an international bent—had likely already subscribed to a primary and even secondary news source. 

“They were quite late to market for an international play, especially in English language,” Watson said. “Its appeal is obviously more niche than they might have hoped at launch.”

The case study underscores the challenges facing news publishers as they attempt to break into saturated news markets and win new subscribers. But it also reflects the opportunity that language translation technology provides. If such operations can manage their expenses, even a marginal gain in subscribers can justify the effort.

Subscription wins, losses and surprises

According to Aubron, Le Monde in English fell short of its subscription goal for two primary reasons.

First, it focused its resources for the first 1.5 years on improving the product. Since its launch, Le Monde in English has brought English subtitles to its videos and added English-language functionality to its app, among other innovations.

Second, Le Monde still suffers from a lack of brand recognition abroad, and fixing that issue is now its main focus. The publisher has renewed a partnership with The New York Times and will launch on Apple News+ in the coming months, both of which it hopes will improve its profile.

Although Le Monde in English targets English speakers worldwide, the U.S. has emerged as its primary market, which came as a surprise, according to English editor in chief Elvire Camus. 

The publisher had thought the U.K. would be its main market, but close to 33% of traffic and 50% of new subscribers come from the U.S., Camus explained.

Another surprise came from the editorial department, which has found that some of its best-performing content concerns French culture. Reporting on local news, such as restaurant openings and museum exhibits, has proven particularly effective at prompting readers to subscribe, according to Aubron.

An Olympic opportunity

Le Monde in English will have a ready-made opportunity to expand its brand presence this summer through sports marketing when the 2024 Olympics come to Paris.

In preparation, the publisher is readying a variety of service journalism offerings that aim to help English-speaking tourists navigate the city and the Games. It also has a large contingent of journalists dedicated to covering the festivities, positioning the publisher to be a resource for anyone looking for an on-the-ground perspective.

The opportunity the Games present has not been lost on Le Monde in English, which hopes to take full advantage of the international attention the Olympics will garner.

“The Olympics are where we will try to attract readers in Paris or with their eyes on Paris,” Camus said. “We want them to see the best we can offer.”

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