Reaching 130 million ‘global progressives’ – how The Economist is embracing new opportunities

Joanna Alexandre serves a rather unique target audience, or as she refers to them: global progressives. “Our readers are globally curious; interested in the world beyond themselves and by extension also interested in the impact of technology and the advancement of their careers – as well as helping others. We think there’s a worldwide market of about 130 million of these globally curious progressives. All of them potentially interested in our content.” 

New frontiers

As the ways to reach this potential market revolutionises, so to do the ways content is syndicated. Alexandre cites one of her 130 million target market progressives to make her point. “If you are Chinese speaking and live in Beijing, the only way you would be able to read The Economist content 10 years ago would be if one of the Chinese newspapers took some articles from us and translated it into Chinese – with or without The Economist logo on it. Today that person not only has access to The Economist content through our website but also through a digital application called The Economist Global Business Review.” 

Launched in April this year, the app is the first bilingual product featuring curated The Economist content offered in the 172-year history of the weekly publication. It delivers analysis on global trends in business, finance and technology and will be expanded to bring a series of local-language offerings to the global market. The current bilingual Chinese-English Global Business Review is reaching a set of global business leaders in markets like mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. 

Another recent achievement is the launch of The Economist Espresso, a daily application for smartphones delivering a set of short features – before breakfast – telling the reader what’s on the global agenda for that specific day. The Economist won the 2015 Professional Publishers Association (PPA) “Digital Innovation of the Year (Consumer Media)” award for this. 

Downloadable content

But this is not where downloadable content ends. Economist Films, produced to stimulate debate, are also downloadable to personal devices as well as featured on The Economist YouTube channel. So too are their dedicated audio editions available for download on a variety of devices, even the Apple wristwatch. “One of the traits we have identified among our readers is that they are genuinely interested in science and technology. They want to see that we are compatible with their devices. They want to listen to us on digital devices and watches. We’ve even had discussions to put our content into cars. As you drive to work in the morning you can listen to The Economist and be part of the debate.” 

Multiple revenue streams

For Alexandre it’s no longer a matter of how content reaches the consumer, but the fact that these new routes pose more interesting challenges when it comes to the question of content syndication. “In the past, we tended to focus on big branded deals with high value, now we find that just as the route to market for the consumer has changed, so too for newspapers and the ways to monetise content. Newspapers are now selecting content from a variety of different sources and looking for a multitude of smaller agreements. These are not big exclusive relationships anymore. These are cherry-picking content from different publishers.” 

This has disrupted the way syndication has traditionally been dealt with, stresses Alexandre. “We have to be more flexible and look more carefully at how we window different media and publications in different territories.” It has also made her job more complicated. “Yes, it’s certainly more difficult but also more interesting because it opens up more avenues for us.” 

This means experimenting with different models of distributing content and creating more revenue streams, like pay-per-click, which has been a positive experience for The Economist working with Dutch digital publisher Blendle. “This is a model we are happy to be associated with because it is very transparent. We can see what people are downloading and what they are reading and we get paid in relation to that.” 

The aggregation conundrum 

Alexandre describes applications that aggregate content as a bit of a maze but also an interesting strategic challenge. “We have a strategy based on awareness of The Economist in each territory as well as how important it is for us to increase our reach in those territories, and what kind of revenue assumptions can be made from this.” 

But Alexandre feels The Economist content should be managed differently when it comes to aggregating it along with mere reportage from other publications. “We offer comment and analyses and we believe our offering is of more value. Therefore our content should be priced as such. In any aggregator model we think the price being paid for our content should reflect its quality.” 

She refutes the school of thought that social media have been disruptive for publishers. “We have a very good understanding of how social media can add to our value proposition.” They have a team doing diagnostics on which clicks drive traffic to This, explains Alexandre, gives them the data they need to know whether website traffic is coming from their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts. 

The interesting unknown is readers also drive people to through their social media actions. 

“It is one of those things we cannot control, and it’s brilliant for us because a certain upsurge caused by a retweet means that it’s our readers telling their peers ‘we love this, we think you will love this too’. It’s good for us because we want to start a debate and The Economist content can be quite divisive – creating a forum where people can express their opinions.” 

This drives traffic to the website and ultimately past the paywall.


FIPP’s Worldwide Media Marketplace

With so many fresh opportunities, one of Alexandre’s most important annual media events is attending FIPP’s Worldwide Media Marketplace (WMM).

This year, WMM will take place the day before the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada on 13 October (with the main Congress speaker programme, which includes FIPP Mobile and FIPP Innovation, on 14 and 15 October). Attendees can either book WMM Only tickets or all-access FIPP World Congress tickets, giving them access to WMM, the Congress and FIPP Mobile and FIPP Innovation channels – register here if you haven’t yet.

Not familiar with cross-border business? 

Join our Masterclass, led by Mike Greehan of Cue Ball, on Monday 12 October at 2 pm. 20 people have already signed up. You can get more information about the Masterclass here.


More about Joanna Alexandre

With a degree in English literature and a former sales executive and licensing manager at BBC Worldwide, Alexandre cut her teeth working across Scandinavia and Benelux, and later in the Emerging Markets team at BBC Worldwide before joining BBC Magazines and then Immediate Media to lead the international licensing and syndication business across print and digital. She became licensing and syndication director at The Economist in 2013.

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