Fueled by Facebook, The Independent tests the waters on US expansion

The Independent is the latest U.K. publisher eyeing the U.S. for digital growth. And it’s not bringing its print pages with it.

The Independent saw 11 million unique visitors from the U.S. last month, says comScore, almost as many as its U.K. audience of 14 million uniques. Much of The Independent’s U.S. audience growth is a product of social distribution. One of benefits of social media is that it puts all publishers on a level playing field. Any foreign publication has an equal chance of landing in a reader’s Facebook feed as a domestic outlet. In effect, every publisher has a global audience, even if it only writes for a relatively smaller group of people.

“When you see those numbers from U.S. visitors going up in your analytics, obviously you’re going to start thinking about how well you’re actively going after those people and what they’re thinking when they come to you,” said The Independent digital editor Christian Broughton.

The Independent is setting the groundwork for a deliberate editorial and business expansion that it hopes will push its international audience numbers even further upward. It has plans to build out U.S.-based editorial and sales teams. It will also create a U.S.-centric landing page in the coming months, he said. It also plans to increase the amount of its coverage written for U.S. readers and to push those stories out to U.S.-specific Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The big question is whether the Independent can carve a niche in a U.S. media market populated by not only American incumbents, but fellow U.K publishers as well. Both The Daily Mail and The Guardian have expanded to the U.S. as a way to go beyond the smaller, more saturated U.K. market.

The Independent is positioning itself between its fellow U.K. publishers by sporting an editorial mindset centered on news coverage that’s both journalistically neutral and written for a global audience. And Broughton said that approach should let the brand travel seamlessly to the U.S.

“We’re not one of those newspapers that takes a global event and tries to find a British angle on it,” he said. “We’re not parochial in the way that many titles here are.”

But whether U.S. readers are looking another news source, British or not, is an open question.

“There are enough media companies in the U.S. that write from an U.S. view, but I can’t tell if the U.S. readers want to hear or read the outside one,” said Dietmar Schantin, founder of the Institute for Media Strategies. “This is something that needs to be found out. If the Independent can attract critical thinkers, who are bored with Fox or anything that only tells the U.S. view, then there might be a chance.”

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