Two words: Digital, English.
Those are the strategies that France’s Le Monde, a dominant force in the local publishing space with 70% market share, is pinning its hopes on to secure its place in this new era of digital transformation.
According to Louis Dreyfus, the organization’s CEO, a foreign edition of Le Monde was “impossible to conceive” before the digital wave brought on by the pandemic, given the high costs involved in using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools to translate stories at a rapid pace.
That has since changed, he said, paving the way for an expansion into new international markets — the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Belgium and Luxembourg — and the recent launch of ‘Le Monde in English,’ a combination of English-language articles and a daily newsletter.
The AI-translated articles will be reviewed and edited by a 100-plus team of professional translators and journalists, as “it would make no sense to publish a cheap version of Le Monde and not maintain the same standard and quality [we have with the French publication],” Dreyfus told PYMNTS in an interview.
It also seems the publication is sparing no expense when it comes to powering payments for its growing digital readership. Earlier this month, it announced a partnership with U.S. payments giant Stripe — a deal Dreyfus said will ensure that subscribers worldwide are able to pay with their preferred local payment method.
Stripe’s integrated machine-learning fraud detection solution, Stripe Radar, will also protect transactions and prevent the sharing of passwords among users, bridging the gap where Le Monde’s technology falls short.
When it comes to the global publishing space, Dreyfus said he is conscious of the competitive advantage established media organizations have in places like the U.S., which is why its goal is not to grab market share, but rather carve out a niche in those markets.
“We are not looking to compete, but for an active reader of The New York Times or The Washington Post, having a French view on international or European [events] is obviously a good compliment [to an American view],” he explained.
After years of losing money, he said Le Monde’s aim is to make this international move a success now that it is on a path to profitability, capitalizing on it to reach its goal of 1 million subscribers by 2025.
Cracking the Millennial Code
For the first time in 2017, Le Monde’s digital subscribers surpassed print subscribers, and last year, digital subscription revenues were enough to cover its entire editorial expenses, both for online and print. Le Monde in English, too, has already contributed to a 10% growth in new subscribers, adding 426,000 new digital subscribers in less than a month of launch.
While these numbers might be an incentive to unplug the print edition entirely, Dreyfus said doing that would alienate a key part of Le Monde’s audience: readers 45 years old and above, who have a strong preference for the print edition.
“Every time there is a special event, they are still going to the newsstand to buy the print issue, so we will remain in print as long as this audience needs us. We owe them that service,” he argued.
And truth be told, some have long regarded the publication as one tailored to older, highly experienced French readers, with very little to no connection to a younger audience. It’s an issue the publication has taken on in recent years, Dreyfus said, adapting its news and putting strategies in place to engage millennials and appeal to a younger generation of readers.
“We were the first French media on Snapchat and have more than 1.5 million followers. We are also quite heavy on TikTok and on YouTube and have a dedicated group of young professionals within our main staff who are publishing [free content] on these platforms,” he explained.
Over time, that strategy seems to have paid off, leading to readers under 30 years old representing 50% of new subscribers gained last year.
“Some of them are people who discovered Le Monde five years ago on Snapchat,” he said, adding when they are mature and ready for more dense content, they naturally transition to a digital subscription.
Big Tech: We Need Them
In November of last year, Google agreed to a five-year deal that will compensate French news organization Agence France-Presse (AFP) for online content. This came after dozens of French publishers reached a similar deal with Facebook the month prior to set the remuneration terms for content published and shared on the social media platform.
Those deals were inked under the “neighboring rights” law, a French copyright law enacted after years-long complaints by news organizations over the loss of ad revenue, as online aggregators used their content for free in search results or in other features.
France’s competition regulator even took a tougher stance earlier last year, fining Google $592 million in July 2021 for failing to negotiate with French publishers in good faith in a similar dispute over payments for their news.
According to Dreyfus, it is unfortunate that it had to come to that, but “we needed this regulation to force GAFA [acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon] to negotiate with French and European publishers,” he said.
Now that they’ve managed to reach a deal, he said taking a more pragmatic approach would be the best strategy going forward because they still need GAFA’s expertise in marketing and resources to invest in tech.
And, at the end of the day, being in blunt opposition to them and dismissing the key role they play in the ecosystem would not make business sense.
“I think that would be a mistake [because] they are too strong. [Instead], we need to build the right balance in the relationship and learn to live with them as those deals are good for business,” Dreyfus said.
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