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June 17, 2016, 9:39 a.m.
Business Models

Fast and furious: Using Axel Springer’s reach, Business Insider is pushing rapid expansion abroad

“The Axel Springer acquisition really opened things up. We’re having lots more conversations.”

Business Insider is wasting no time setting up its little newsrooms around the world. With the recent launch of Polish and Nordic sites, the company now has 10 international editions. A French version is launching later this year. And it’s been in talks with nearly a dozen other markets, including the Netherlands, Roddy Salazar, BI’s VP for international, told me.

“The Axel Springer acquisition really opened things up. We’re having lots more conversations,” said Salazar, who previously managed North American licensing and syndication for The New York Times, and joined BI in February to oversee overseas expansion, from negotiating license agreements to monitoring the progress of those local editions. “Since we’ve launched in new markets, and since the acquisition, we’re actually seeing a lot more potential partners approach us, which allows us to begin those conversations and get a better sense with on-the-ground information and data about how a Business Insider edition might perform in those markets.”

Axel Springer acquired the company for $343 million last fall, and its new involvement has proved to be a staffing boon for these new international editions.

Business Insider Poland, for instance, though just launched, was instantly one of its largest international presences, with around 15 employees — a mix of staffers working for BI and for Grupa Onet.pl, an online portal owned by Axel Springer. It’s a model that was also recently applied in Germany, where the German-language site is run in partnership with an Axel Springer-owned financial site Finanzen, by former Bild editor Christin Martens, with a few dedicated BI staffers as well as Axel Springer ones pitching in. (Only the U.S. and U.K. editions are owned-and-operated; other international editions are licensed.)

On the editorial end, new international editions that launch have access to the feed of original Business Insider content. They get licensing assistance. There’s training around analytics and SEO. They get social media help, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or other platforms that are more dominant in a given country. “The translation issue is still something we’re working on,” Salazar said, but many of the international editions still publish in English (the new Nordic edition, for instance), so content-sharing is relatively straightforward.

To handle the commercial side of this international expansion, Business Insider hired a partner manager dedicated entirely to supporting the international editions on issues outside of editorial. And leading up to each launch, an editor is sent to a country to offer guidance on hitting the right “style and voice.”

“We send editors over to that local newsroom, and they stay in touch with that edition. It stays close to their hearts,” Salazar said. “When we sent an editor from New York to Poland ahead of the Polish launch, she ended up having a very positive experience, and came back and felt invested about the success of that edition.”

For BI Poland, the initial partnership was with Agora — which publishes Gazeta Wyborcza and Gazeta.pl — but after Axel Springer acquired BI, the partnership moved to Onet, the most popular online news source in Poland, which Axel Springer owns. Agora, for its part, has moved forward with its own online business portal, Next.gazeta.pl, targeting younger online audiences, as it had already done some of the preliminary research and began building a team.

“Axel Springer holds a majority of ownership of Onet, so it makes sense for us to consider Axel Springer properties in that way, especially if they already have a great presence in that market,” Salazar said. “They saw significant opportunity in the Polish market — there really wasn’t anything like Business Insider there. They really want to approach this relationship and the launch in an aggressive way. They believe there’s a huge appetite for what BI produces. And that is a big piece of the rationale behind their investment in the growth of a site and brand in Poland.”

Internationally, according to Salazar, “we’re taking a good look at partnering with all local media companies.” But what are the right markets for Business Insider to enter, beyond countries where Axel Springer has a big footprint?

“We obviously take into account the online penetration, and also the social media penetration, in each of these markets. Those tend to be the broader aspects of what we’d consider,” Salazar said. “We like to see a baseline of traffic that already exists within a market to the U.S. site. That’s a significant marker. We actually have quite a significant and growing global audience, and we’ve seen a strong international growth of the type of work BI produces.”

About a third of the traffic to the U.S. Business Insider site comes from outside the U.S., and that international traffic is fairly spread out geographically. After a new international edition launches, traffic from that country to Businessinsider.com roughly quadruples, “compared to what we’d see in organic growth,” according to Salazar.

For the U.S. site, comScore put traffic at 44 million U.S. multiplatform unique visitors in May, behind Forbes and Yahoo Finance but a 12 percent increase from last May. In January, co-founder Henry Blodget sent a memo to staff setting a lofty traffic goal of one billion monthly unique visitors across all Business Insider sites and distributed content, according to CNN Money. The same story cited anonymous former employees who also described pressures on writers to publish more, with an eye on traffic: “If they were writing five posts a day, one former employee recalled, Blodget urged them to write six.”

These international editions, along with Tech Insider and a new lifestyle site, will be significant contributors to traffic growth. U.S. traffic growth for many digital publishers has slowed substantially.

How exactly each new site will be evaluated on its progress is still being refined, according to Salazar. But: “We’re working on key performance indicators that will be shared across the board, that will determine the success of each of the editions,” he said. “One is traffic, and that will be broken out by uniques, pageviews, impressions. Another is monetization: tracking revenue and seeing where one of the editions might be succeeding, and sharing that across our sites.”

“Ideally, we’d like to see a scenario where the global editions are producing content shared between all of the sites, effectively creating a 24-hour newsroom,” he added.

Photo “Curioso elemento el tiempo” by leoplus, used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 17, 2016, 9:39 a.m.
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