The New York Times recently announced that it would be publishing a Spanish-language digital edition, an exciting development as the paper set an ambitious goal of growing digital revenue from $400 million in 2014 to $800 million by 2020.
We spoke to Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, The Times’s publisher for International, to discuss the preparation and strategy behind this decision, and how it will factor into the paper’s larger global monetization goals.
“Like Mixing a Cocktail”
While undertaking a Spanish-language edition is a serious commitment, it will complement the paper’s already impressive global presence: The Times‘s site has over 30 million site visits from outside of the United States every month. Within Latin America, it already distributes its International Weekly supplements to newspapers in Mexico (Diario de Yucatan, and Grupo Reforma’s Reforma, El Norte y El Mural), Nicaragua (El Nuevo Diario), the Dominican Republic (Listín Diario), Guatemala (Prensa Libre), Brazil (Folha, Gazeta do Povo), Argentina (Clarín), Chile (Mercurio), Colombia (El Espectador), Bolivia (La Razon) and Peru (Correo).
The new Spanish-language edition will feature a mix of original content written by local journalists and material from The Times (translated meticulously at their bureau in Mexico). “It’s a little like mixing a cocktail,” Dunbar-Johnson says, emphasizing that the content will evolve as they learn about their audience. Despite the significant reputation and reach of The Times on a global scale, Dunbar-Johnson was quick to remind us that they have only been focusing on Latin America for two years, and that in terms of global subscriptions, Latin America accounts for only 140,000 of their one million subscribers.
Dunbar-Johnson believes that there are a wide array of opportunities all over the world, but that Latin America gives The Times ample room to experiment with different approaches to bringing in and monetizing global audiences. The main question behind their efforts to pursue them is this: “Were we to lower the barrier of language, could expose our style of journalism in other markets?” Dunbar-Johnson insists that their strategy is built on a foundation of receptivity to different kinds of content.
The first step in measuring receptivity was to conduct testing to understand whether or not they understood their global audience as well as they suspected they did. This process didn’t find anything very surprising, as “the audience and readers we are after – educated people of a certain demographic – show a lot of similarity in terms of the stories they like: a blend of general interest coverage, enterprise and opinion.”
They did, however, see a difference when it came to opinion pieces, as those tested preferred to read the original piece, in the author’s native language. But lifestyle, stories around recognized brands, enterprise pieces and in-depth pieces scored highly, which was “gratifying, because it goes straight to the heart of The Times’s journalism,” says Dunbar-Johnson.
“We Don’t Pretend to Have All the Answers”
Providing strong, objective journalistic content to a region with many idiosyncrasies will be no easy task, especially given the fact that in many Latin American countries, journalism is often inextricably linked to politics. The truth is often hidden in vested motives and clouded judgment, and what’s more, Latin Americans are understandably wary of outsiders opining on their state of affairs. Dunbar-Johnson believes that this could play to The Times’s advantage, as many will be looking elsewhere for comprehensive coverage of their countries’ current events.
Dunbar-Johnson also highlighted the importance of “a sense of confidence in the quality of translations,” and reiterated that they work particularly hard to make sure that their team achieves the right “nuance” through their translations.
But Dunbar-Johnson was careful to emphasize the fact that this is long-term project, saying, “we don’t pretend to have all the answers.” The goal has always been to launch “in an agile and flexible way that could be scaled over time,” with a focus on “the right context mix in the product.”
They expect that as they grow their audiences, they will start to learn more about them, how to engage them and make The Times “relevant to them as non-Americans.” With such a plethora of tools for reaching people, smartphones in particular, this is no easy task, and Dunbar-Johnson knows this means that The Times must “deliver in ways that we never imagined.”
Marinate, Engage, Monetize
While driving traffic to the site from Latin America will be a plus, the ultimate goal is to turn that traffic into increased subscribers.
Dunbar Johnson points to the fair amount of trade affinity between Latin America and the United States as well as US-Hispanic audiences as possible factors that could increase Spanish-language subscribers. But ultimately, Dunbar-Johnson is confident that “marinating” people in The Times’s style of journalism will draw them in enough so that they can be engaged and then monetized.
Attracting advertising will also play a key role in monetization, as well as a “long-term process of driving audiences,” Dunbar-Johnson’s team is “not seeking to drive subscriptions today or tomorrow or in a few months,” as “it’s more about learning about the audience so we can curate better experiences and drive subscriptions.”
Luckily, testing has proven that readers outside of the United States have similar profiles to those of American readers: “urban, educated professionals that tend to spend more time looking at news, often on devices,” than most people. They “tend to travel, work for multinational organizations, and they want to be connected to what’s happening around them in their own and other cities.”
Adaptable, ready to learn, and in no rush to figure it all out, Dunbar-Johnson and his team appear ready to take on this behemoth of a region.