With half a million international subscribers, The New York Times builds UK breaking news team

As part of its goal to reach 2 million international subscribers by 2025, The New York Times has established a breaking news team in the U.K. Currently, 500,000 of The Times’ 5.3 million subscribers are international.

Former deputy live editor at the Guardian Erin McCann will lead the London team of at least five reporters focused on building coverage of global breaking news stories. The publisher previously told Digiday it has over 200 reporters outside of the U.S.

The Times has ambitious goals to reach 10 million subscribers globally by 2025 and is aggressively growing its headcount to hit that target. Off the back of record growth in 2019, where it added 1 million digital subscribers across its news, cooking and crosswords product, international growth is fertile ground for growing subscribers.

“We’ve proven that people are willing to pay for quality journalism and we are seeing this is an increasingly positive consumer trend around the world,” said Charlotte Gordon, vice president of international growth, speaking from Axel Springer’s paid content summit last week. “Internationally, we now have more than 500,000 subscribers to our core digital news offering.”

Breaking news, a commoditized service with countless competitors producing it for free, works best at retaining existing subscribers rather than acquiring new ones. It’s a lesson News UK’s The Times of London learned when it swore off breaking news to focus on more differentiated reporting.

“Investing in breaking news shows [The New York Times] fancies its chances of being a relevant feature in the 2020 news environment,” said media analyst and senior adviser at Trillium Partners Alex DeGroote.

The move shows the publisher’s statement of intent as a global brand rather than one for American expats. According to The Times, over half of its U.K. audience is British, as opposed to U.S. readers living in the U.K., which is a common assumption made about U.S. publishers’ international audiences. The U.K. is also The Times’ second-biggest international market after Canada. In June last year, it launched a week-long Brexit-focused series on its news podcast “The Daily.”

“The acid test of any business is, is it hiring? Media is all about growth, new projects and products,” said DeGroote. “It reinforces the importance of the U.K. in a post-Brexit world, that it’s a relevant place to invest in journalistic talent.”

Reader revenue is where the New York Times is seeing future growth, but it’s also growing advertising revenue during a time when there’s a lot of pressure on digital advertising. The publisher has fiercely guarded the user experience across its products. Rather than serve potentially irritating consent messages to European audiences in the wake of the General Data Protection Regulations in May 2018, it turned off behavioral targeting in Europe. By continuing to sell contextual and geographical targeting to advertising it was still able to grow its European ad revenues.

“In a world where most of our competition is free, the journalism and product experience of The New York Times has to be far better than our competitors because we rely on paying subscribers to fund our independent journalism,” said Gordon.

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