U.K. Newspapers Aim for World of Readers

Online Dailies Are Growing Three Times That of Overall Internet Traffic

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- British newspapers have always been fiercely competitive, in a tradition that stems from the days when they all worked from neighboring offices on Fleet Street in London. So when they all decided to invest heavily in online sites a year ago, the rivalries of centuries came into play. But this time around, the fight is for readers who reside far from Piccadilly Circus. The U.K. papers are aiming for a worldwide empire.
The Guardian is viewed by one in 12 Britons active online.
The Guardian is viewed by one in 12 Britons active online.

The result has been a dynamic and largely successful focus on online newspapers, which are now growing at three times the rate of U.K. internet traffic as a whole, according to figures from Nielsen Online. The most ambitious are getting 20% of their ad revenue from their online sites, and all are targeting international English-speaking readers.

"It's an experimental and energetic time," Anne Spackman, editor in chief of Times Online, said. "We have gone roaring into action like a mighty engine."

The Guardian's shift
The most popular of these sites, The Guardian, is viewed by one in 12 Britons active online. Perhaps key to its success is that it does not see itself as merely an "online newspaper," and a year ago changed its company name from Guardian Newspapers to Guardian News & Media to reflect this shift.

"News organizations are fantastic for web traffic because news drives consumer interest," said Adam Freeman, commercial director of the Guardian. "We don't have to make up a reason for people to come to the site."

The Guardian's online-advertising revenue, 20% of total ad revenue, is growing at 60% annually and is expected to reach 30% of total revenue in five years.

"Being the No. 1 newspaper online in the U.K. is great, but it's not the key to long-term success," Mr. Freeman said. "The internet has opened up international expansion for us and our ambition is to be 'the world's leading liberal voice' although we'll be using words like 'progressive' or 'independent' instead of 'liberal' in the U.S."

The Guardian's own figures show it has 16 million users: one-third from the U.K., one-third from the U.S. and a third from the rest of the world. British media content, according to British media sources, has a disproportionately large presence on the world stage.

Very model of a modern U.K. daily
Even the very British Daily Mail tabloid claims to have significant online readership in the U.S, as well as doubling its own U.K. traffic in the last year. "The internet is a globalized news market and we all speak English," said Martin Clarke, online editorial director for the paper. "U.S. newspapers can be bloody boring, and we are just as easy for Americans to access."

The Times also has an eye to a global audience, believing that British media content is respected around the world. Ms. Spackman said, "We are fighting on the territory of content and the English-speaking world is very big."

Already this year, The Times has spent $20 million relaunching its website, the Telegraph reinvented itself as a "multiplatform content provider," and the Financial Times launched an integrated print and online newsroom. The Daily Mail, however, remains staunchly print-first in its approach: "We are still a healthy print product," Mr. Clarke said. "There are no immediate plans to divert print journalists from newspapers so that they can make podcasts no one listens to."

Web is 'paying off'
The move to improve content and attract bigger audiences has been rewarded by increased advertising investment as well as user numbers. "There has been a spurt of growth because everybody has put a lot of time and effort into online and now it's paying off," Mr. Clarke said. "But advertising online is a new science and we are still experimenting to see what works best."

Ms. Spackman agreed. "Newspapers can say with confidence that they know their audiences but we are in a much more foggy position. We are still in the foothills of understanding the online audience."
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