November 14, 2016 Last Updated 9:21 am

Some thoughts from Condé Nast Int’l’s chief digital officer

Wolfgang Blau on the need for developing an ‘English language media sphere’ to give voice to Continental Europe as a counter to the UK press

The message below was contained in a tweet from Wolfgang Blau, Condé Nast International’s chief digital officer. I think his point is important, though as an American I would say that my point of view here is pretty irrelevant.

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Blau joined Condé Nast about a year ago from The Guardian, where he had been director of digital strategy.

“My two-and-a-half years at The Guardian have been very exciting, from the Snowden story which broke only a few weeks after I joined, to our work together on the Guardian’s new sites and apps, the hustings for a new chief editor and our climate change campaign earlier this year – all of it was a privilege to be part of. I will remain a close friend of The Guardian in years to come,” Blau said at the time he joined Condé Nast International.

Blau had previously been with he weekly German newspaper Die Zeit.

I mention all this as a way of providing some context as to Blau’s experience, and now his message:

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My own position, as a proponent of digital publishing, is that I am saddened that digital publishing has made language less of an obstacle to communication by now. I naively assumed, when I started TNM in 2010, that Apple or Google would have incorporated translation into their mobile operating systems in such a way that an American such as me could read Le Monde or La Stampa today with no difficulty. I guess I just thought we all saw the potential of digital editions, but I was wrong.

But I think Blau may be wrong here regarding whether serving English language readers might be viable as a business – I do see a business model. If the digital media has taught us anything, it is that small, local markets, that would otherwise be unprofitable, can become larger international markets under the right circumstances. I know that today I can listen to the music from an obscure Italian band because, while it may be true that only a few Americans are interested in their music, looking worldwide, the interest is larger.

If any of these media companies are interested in speaking to me through such a product, I’m here to listen.

  • D 9 months ago

    Listening to music, though, is totally different from reading media. I don’t need to understand all of the words of a great Italian opera to know that it’s a great piece of music, but I do need to understand the words of a great piece of reportage to understand it’s merits…

    • D.B. Hebbard 9 months ago

      True, but that is why Wolfgang is advocating for an English language service, thus solving that issue.

      A few other thoughts: it is not as if this hasn’t been tried by individual media outlets. Le Monde briefly had an English language edition of its iOS app, for instance.

      Maybe what would be needed – and maybe what is being advocated – is a consortium approach to the problem, with publishers teaming up to create a solution, taking a somewhat similar approach to what publishers did when they created Next Issue Media (with their digital newsstand now known as Texture).