I don’t speak French, I wish I did, but I belong to a group of more than 600 million Europeans whose second language is either English, Russian, German, Spanish, or something else.

When I want to read something originating in French media, I use Google’s Translate tool, and it’s usually connected to podcasts. France has a thriving podcast market, with several well-known podcast networks that focus on non-news shows.

A little over a hundred million people in Europe speak French. Even though it was once a contender to become the ‘lingua franca’ of the European Union, English remains to be the most used.

If an international event like a journalism festival is happening anywhere in Europe, it goes without question that it will be in English. With almost 300 million speakers, it dwarfs even the Russian-speaking population, which is about half of that. Still, more Europeans speak or understand German more than Russian.

French is not in the top 3, but it comes in fourth.

Why the lengthy intro? Last week, Le Monde, the French newspaper of record, launched a new English language digital edition. It will consist of translated versions of a diverse selection of articles produced by the editorial team, as the Deputy Director Gilles van Kote wrote in its introduction.

Why Le Monde? Why now?

There are two central objectives with this project, van Kote explains. The first is to offer a French and European vision of current events to the English-speaking world. The second is to provide a new platform to showcase the work of Le Monde‘s editorial staff and, in so doing, to broaden the range of our subscribers.

That’s pretty straight forward, and there is not much left unsaid about the motivations of the 77-year-old newspaper.

Publishing in English is not completely new to Le Monde. In 2015, the paper published two SwissLeaks articles in English and has done so occasionally ever since.

The current effort counts up to ten people responsible for the English version, with two being in Los Angeles. Their main task is to select articles for translation and get them translated.

The Paris-based newsroom of 500 journalists publishes hundreds of articles a day, and the English version will have about 70 translated articles a day. 

Gilles van Kote is quite explicit that Le Monde in English will not publish original content. Of course, this makes sense but also delays any breaking news.

Although, it seems the workflow is not that bad. A breaking news story about Elon Musk proposing to buy Twitter was published less than 10 minutes after the original piece (the outlet also uses translation software to speed up the process).

Le Monde has 420,000 digital-only subscribers (plus about 100,000 print subscribers). The English edition is part of its push of reaching one million subscribers (all media combined) by 2025. 

In that regard, it is almost as if the French daily decided to follow The New York Times’ playbook for reaching its goal, it increasingly started looking at international audiences.

The push also comes in the midst of the French presidential elections, which makes France especially interesting as we have seen a tight run in the first round.

Bloomberg points out that the new website will focus on four key areas: news, economy, opinion, and culture, and also include articles on fashion, travel, food, and wine.

The subscription and retention strategy needs some more work

Le Monde also introduced an English daily newsletter (there are no other options, yet). When you sign up, you will automatically get a new account set up, and—as a sign of things working out—you get a confirmation e-mail in French.

There is no option to turn on English in the mobile app, at least not yet. And there are no English podcasts, even though the outlet produces several in French.

I mention both the app, the podcasts, and the lack of newsletters to select because all are considered a huge part of retention strategies for successful publishers with a subscription business.

Le Monde offers an introductory subscription price of €2.49/month for the first year which will bump up to €9.99 if you are subscribing in Europe but will cost €14.99 if you live in the US or Canada.

Press Gazette’s piece on the international push of the French paper of record reminded me that Le Monde has been one of the early partners for Snapchat to showcase its journalism to younger audiences, and has since done well on TikTok and YouTube.

According to Press Gazette, in 2021, nearly half of all new subscribers to Le Monde were under the age of 34. That’s no small feat and shows the French outlet can appeal quite well to younger audiences.

So far, the leading French daily has set up English accounts on Facebook (with 72 followers, at the time of this writing and seven days after its introduction) and Twitter (~ 2,500 followers). The English site still links to Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat accounts in French.

And there are some other minor issues like the fact that the subscription page links to general terms and conditions in French, and will also direct you to the original FAQ in French, not the English version.

European impact of Le Monde’s international push

In The Rebooting newsletter, Brian Morrissey wrote he hoped more European publishers target the U.S. and added that in the U.S. market, they could use a European perspective.

I agree, Le Monde paves the way, and I am sure counterparts from Germany, Spain, and Italy are watching.

The idea of having a strong European perspective on the news that’s happening within the continent and also globally has deep roots among some media elites in continental Europe. I have talked about this with Voxeurop CEO, Gian-Paolo Accardo in an interview last year.

For years, various European media leaders and thinkers argued about different ways of setting up pan-European media. The most wide-spread idea has been setting up a new outlet which will translate the articles into several biggest European languages.

But the more I think about it and also looking at the likes of The New York Times which is using English-only to reach European audiences (just look how popular is NYT’s The Daily in European countries) the more I believe Le Monde’s strategy might work if done right.

The basic playbook seems simple enough—translate X number of articles. Though, as I mentioned above, to keep international subscribers the outlet needs to engage more retention strategies than content in English with a single daily newsletter.

Still, it’s about time there was a strong European perspective on global and European news.

Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash