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Goodbye international editions, hello digital

Goodbye international editions, hello digital

Are international editions a luxury that newspapers with declining circulation can't afford?

In this digital age, increasingly it looks like international print editions are under threat. An article in The Guardian last Sunday speculated that the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of the New York Times, might be about to shut up shop. Author Peter Preston writes that after selling its stake in the Boston Red Sox and its regional newspaper group, getting rid of the Tribune might be the logical next step for the New York Times.

Preston calls the Tribune "very vulnerable" as senior editors are being called back from the IHT headquarters in Paris to other jobs in New York. He notes that the paper "doesn't make money. It struggles to keep circulation over 200,000 worldwide. And, crucially, it doesn't have a website of its own".

The article is based on conjecture (and it should be pointed out, The Guardian's own circulation was 230,108 in December and it has been losing money for some time) but perhaps Preston raises an important point about the cost of printing international editions. When print production everywhere is under threat, it's no surprise that they're the first to go.

The Guardian's own international edition was scrapped last summer, although the Guardian Weekly is still available globally. At the time, Guardian readers' editor Chris Elliot wrote, "other newspapers are expected to follow suit. International editions were always more costly to produce, and eventually the costs were disproportionate in an era when all papers are facing declining revenues." The Independent followed suit by axing its international edition last autumn.

However, having a strong international presence can be a huge source of revenue. This is especially true for papers that print in English, because the growth of English as an international language means that they have an ever-expanding audience. The Economist is a case in point. In an interview with The Guardian last November, Andrew Rashbass, CEO of The Economist Group, said that the huge commercial success of the magazine was down to "the extraordinary luck" of publishing in English.

Clearly there is a difference between national dailies like the Guardian, which appeal to British citizens living abroad and in-depth analysis publications like the Economist, which appeal to all English speakers. It's no surprise that the first folded, while the second is still going strong.

However, the Financial Times - printed daily in Britain but relevant to financial professionals around the globe - is an example that straddles the gap. The paper boasts that it is the first daily newspaper to sell more copies internationally than in its home market and today it is printed in 22 cities around the world. However, managing editor Lisa MacLeod told WAN-IFRA in an email exchange that although the FT has "maintained a full correspondents' network with over 140 staff working overseas" at the paper "we have however recently attempted to scale back on some of the production complexities of our international editions by bringing the deadlines on the inside international pages closer together, and running more common pages where possible."

"This is an attempt to simplify our print-heavy production process to free up resources for the growing digital business," she states.

Digital products are an obvious replacement for international editions because they allow papers to distribute content worldwide without the heavy costs of printing abroad. When The Guardian got rid of its international edition, the paper said the decision was "part of its digital first strategy".

So the fact that international editions are folding doesn't mean that papers are failing to capitalize on the international market. On the contrary, The Wall Street Journal recently launched a digital-only German edition. Non-English speaking publications are also trying to get in on the action. Der Spiegel recently released an English-language iPhone edition, massively boosting its global appeal.

Sources: The Guardian (1) (2),, Wall Blog, FT (1) (2) sfnblog

Photo via Flickr


Hannah Vinter


2012-01-25 12:54

Shaping the Future of the News Publishing

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