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UK too small for successful quality papers in the digital age?

Both The Times and the Guardian have decided that their futures are linked to expanding readership overseas. This week Robert Thomson, editor of The Times, told a Press Gazette breakfast that the paper’s biggest challenge in coming years would be to expand its online audience globally.

Martin Stabe reports that Thomson expects Times Online’s Indian readership to be larger than its UK readership within a couple of years. Thomson said: “There’ll be hand-to-hand combat with the FT and the Telegraph in Britain for many years to come, but the greatest growth opportunity will be in understanding that international audience,”

Earlier this month Carolyn McCall, chief executive of Guardian Media Group, told the UK Association of Online Publishers their ambition was to become the leading liberal voice in the world – an ambition which (however grandiose it might once have sounded) the internet now makes it possible to achieve. It may be a position it has already reached.

Ian Mayes, the paper’s readers’ editor, added in his column that the monthly total of 13 million individual users of the Guardian Unlimited site came from practically every country in the world.

Like the Guardian, the Times is currently getting the largest number of overseas readers from the United States. Thomson said his paper’s online audience had increased 250% in the past year to nine million unique users last month, of whom nearly four million were in the United States.

India, he said, had already shot from 15th to fifth in the list of countries drawing most readers to Times Online.

It is not surprising that India with it booming economy, population of a billion and widespread use of English should be seen by Thomson as a place for expansion. At the same time the ability to serve local advertising makes new overseas readers financially worthwhile.

The Guardian sees its international appeal coming from being a global liberal voice. Thomson sees the quality of writing in The Times as setting it appart from American papers with similarly global aspirations.

He told the Press Gazette breakfast: “It is something that sets the best of British journalism apart from US journalism, having seen US journalism up close in New York, and does give us a comparative advantage.”

Over at the Guardian the editor, Alan Rusbridger, and others have talked about the impact of a global audience on decision making. Preserving the individual voices of newspapers while catering for much more diverse audiences is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the digital newspaper age.

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  1. Martin says

    You can add the The Telegraph to this analysis: It claims one-third of its online readership is in the US.

    I’m not sure it’s a matter of the UK being too small, but the British quality papers realising that the fact that they publish in English gives them a huge new opportunity to expand globally.