As major news publications reckon with decreased readership, the Washington Post has turned to solutions that emphasize localization and regional outreach.
The Washington Post has been trying to expand its global reach, turning to localization as one of its primary strategies. This year, as the publication and many other newspapers lifted their paywalls to grant people around the world access to timely, pandemic-related information and news, the Post has seen a significant uptick in subscribers. However, despite the growth in its daily user base, the publication has also seen little growth in user-generated revenue.
According to WaPo’s chief marketing officer, Miki King, subscriptions have grown by over 40%, and its global subscriptions business is up 60% from last year. “Part of the growth that we saw was a result from things that we’d done prior to this year that began to gain traction and allowed us to be poised [for] this moment,” said King.
The actions King refers to are part of the Post’s localization strategy for global outreach. Newspapers have traditionally lost revenue in past decades, so expanding globally is one way to mitigate the downward trend. With global readership making up about 10% of its subscribers currently, the Post hopes it can increase that number to 20%.
Prior to the global shutdowns, the publication changed its subscription payment methods to match local currencies, reducing friction in the sign-up process. Furthermore, the Post’s marketing team found that publishing newsletters and paid social media marketing with global content as its focus has led to a significant increase in usership, as has the inclusion of global perspectives in article excerpts and graphics. The Post’s site netted over 96 million unique visits in September, a 3.2% increase from last year.
Due to higher engagement from American expatriates and anglophones around the world, the Post will likely target countries with large English-speaking populations, including Canada, Australia, and the UK. One strategy already in play to capture the international traffic in these places has been to partner with local publishers.
In October, the Financial Times of the UK and the Post offered a joint bundle deal that would give their respective readers a discount to sign up for a subscription to the other publication. After the experiment ended in mid-October, the Post is now seeking partnerships in Canada to initiate a similar bundle deal. A point of emphasis in these partnerships is that the Post does not aim to compete with local publications, but rather to provide readers with regional perspectives on global issues already reported in the Post.
Other major news agencies have made similar attempts to gain readers in other countries. The New York Times (NYT) went as far as including a Spanish version and two Chinese versions (Traditional and Simplified Chinese characters), but failed to achieve financial success and even fell into political trouble after conducting an investigative piece on the People’s Republic of China. NYT’s shortcomings raise the question about how the Post will reconcile its localization strategy with government censorship.
For now, the Post’s decision to start with countries like the UK, Canada, and Australia will avoid differences of opinion around freedom of the press and allow for a stronger emphasis on reaching financial success. As a boost, interest in global news sources continues, with COVID-19 cases at record-highs and the US presidency at peak volatility. Now is as good a time as any for a major news organization to reach an international audience. Should the Washington Post’s localization strategy pay off, other major publications will follow quickly on its heels.