Expanding your audience: lessons from Handelsblatt

Many publishers have a focus on expanding their audience–German business newspaper Handelsblatt has taken this to mean expanding their audience globally with an English-language edition. But expanding your audience doesn’t have to be as big an undertaking as Handelsblatt’s global edition–Austrian newspaper Der Standard expanded just across the border into Germany. Their new German version is seeing 3 digit growth each month. While this new edition’s stated goal is to expand more into the German market, it has also allowed the team at Der Standard to have a playground to test new ideas for the Austrian version as well. For example, if you compare the homepage of the two sites, the German version has fewer stories with more engaging images while the original Austrian version has more text, with short summaries in addition to the headlines. They’ve also brought their belief in the importance of audience engagement to the German version–with over 30,000 user postings a day, this makes them the largest online user community in German speaking markets. This is something that is missing in the German market, with many publishers not allowing comments on articles.

To work on your audience expansion strategy, whether that is within your borders or international, Handelsblatt’s global edition editor-in-chief Andreas Kluth recently identified 3 important lessons in an interview with Nieman Lab,

Lesson 1: Meet the needs of your new audience

While you can leverage your resources and knowledge to reach your new audience, your brand reputation may not be as strong to an international audience. For Handelsblatt, this means that while their German site blocks visitors who have adblockers turned on, the global version doesn’t. This in part because the German site is more established, with 21.7 million visitors last month, while the global site is still trying to grow its readership, so denying adblocking readers would restrict growth too much.

This also means it is important to not simply give your new audience the same content in your current edition. Whether you are trying to reach a new audience in your home market or expand international, you will have to adapt your offering. For Andreas Kluth, the biggest sticking point is to adapt their stories for their new international audience, and not simply translate the German version.

Translation never works: We adapt, remix, splice, turn upside-down, and we do our own stories even without recourse to our German colleagues. And when we lay out the English version of German stories on our site, they’re new articles loosely based on the German articles.

Andreas Kluth, Handelsblatt Global Edition Editor-in-Chief

Until now, the global site has been entirely separate from the German version, but later this year, Handelsblatt will incorporate the global English section into the main website and app.

Lesson 2: Offer your unique perspective

Choosing the right stories is an important step in giving new readers a taste of your journalistic offer. In some cases, the choice is clear for Handelsblatt–such as publishing their scoop that Robert Mueller’s team had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for Trump family records. But it isn’t just American news stories that have activated the largest group of global readers (Americans make up 29% of their audience). German-centric articles have also fared well, including an explainer series that has covered such questions as ‘why do Germans take their vacations so seriously?’ or “why are Germans so private about their data?’. Such insight have helped bring in more readers from their target group: professionals with a business interest in German industries who want the German perspective.

We try and get the right balance of assuming they are interested in Germany, though not necessarily knowledgeable about all the differences between their country and here. In general, we add context information for readers, whether about the size of the German company, or naming its U.S. rivals, to give readers a reason why the story is interesting and relevant.

Allison Williams, editor for Handelsblatt’s Global Edition

Other publishers have seen the importance of offering their unique perspective to new audiences as well, including The Washington Post which has quadrupled its international subscribers.

We’re never going to out-report Canadians on Canada. The idea is to do what we do well, which is offer perspective.

Miki King, VP of marketing at The Washington Post

Lesson 3: The importance of digital

For Handelsblatt, the short term goal in their audience expansion is to make their brand known internationally. They’ve done this through a focus on digital–while they haven’t released how many subscriptions have been sold for their global site, they have succeeded in reaching an international audience. 29% of readers are coming from the US, while 21% are non-Germans living in Germany. The rest of the readers are coming from the UK (21%), Canada (9%), and a mix of countries around the world (20%).

In this global push, digital-only subscriptions (and even digital-only editions) have helped Handelsblatt to quickly expand their audience. Handelsblatt’s German-language digital-only edition H10 is a focus in Twipe’s upcoming research report “Reinventing digital-only editions: analysis of success factors” — sign up to be notified when it will be released later this year.

This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.


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