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Don't Write Down to European Audiences!
by Nancy Arrowsmith

Return to International Freelancing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Many North American writers make the mistake of writing down to European audiences. There is nothing wrong in patiently explaining things, but articles for European audiences have to go a bit beyond that. A little punning, some introspection, personal touches or a hardcore technical treatise have more chance of being sold in Europe than a simplistic text at a 4th- grade school level. Although humor is widely appreciated, be very sure that you understand the particular humor of the people you are writing for.

How do European reading audiences differ from North American audiences? Here are a few general thoughts.

  • Europeans read more. The per capita consumption of books and magazines is prodigious, especially in Great Britain and Holland.

  • Despite this, European reading audiences are much, much smaller than North American markets, since there are many languages involved. Often, books and magazines are produced for world language markets. It is very difficult, though, to write for Spanish as well as Mexican audiences, or for American, Canadian, British, Australian and Indian audiences at the same time.

  • The general reading level is higher in Europe than in North America. A European John or Jane Doe will generally read at a higher level (Flesh-Kincaid readability scale) than an American John Doe. North American audiences are often either extremely erudite (A level) or semi-illiterate (sub C level). The well- educated middle class (B level) seems to be shrinking. In Europe, it is alive and well, and reads books. European academics tend to read special-interest literature, and the semi-illiterate usually limit their reading to the boulevard presses. This leaves us with a large, fairly well-read class that regularly consumes books and periodicals and wants other people to consider them well-educated (a high prestige factor).

  • There is less internal media censorship in Europe than in North America. Because of this, texts are often more outspoken or radical, with more explicit language and sexual allusions. Counterculture is an important part of cultural life, and is not "pushed over the edge" into pornography or sedition, but incorporated into mainstream or borderline publications. Criticisms of the powers that be are more marked in European publications, and there is less fear of being sued for libel. As a result, reporting is often more personal.

  • Some journalistic areas are closed for outsiders, and it is very difficult for journalists who are not members of the European old-boys network to get their foot in the door. This is especially the case if there is big money involved.

  • Some areas of interest that are very large in North America are almost non-existent in Europe, and vice-versa.

  • Religious literature in Europe is usually limited to the publications of established religions, or the self-published writings of sects. Evangelical or general Christian literature is lacking, with the exception of the role of faith in healing.

  • Gay and lesbian publications are limited and are often included in counterculture publications.

  • Counterculture publications are numerous, despite the ever- increasing importance of the Internet. Web use is not as widespread in Europe, although it is growing by leaps and bounds. Writing possibilities in this area are available in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet.

  • There is extensive interest in Europe in technological, medical and computer literature. Europeans are not always on the cutting edge of innovation, but they are quick to pick up on something that they can use in their professions. For example, an American doctor may develop a new operating technique -- and a specialist clinic in Germany or Switzerland may be using and perfecting this technique before the FDA has given its final approval. Articles on the newest developments are scanned carefully by European professionals.

  • Companies often publish their own magazines in order to promote their corporate identity, technological or service developments, or to show customers that they are "hip" and "with it". European credit card company and airline publications are often very lively and pay well.

  • Alternative and ecological subjects can be sold to both counter- culture and mainstream European markets. "Ecology" usually means practical ecology in Europe and not nature study. Ecotourism is a hot subject and ecological success stories are also a good choice, for many publications want to better their images as "peddlers of doom", and need upbeat stories.

  • Interviews with great thinkers or innovators are valued by most European readers, who are interested in personal views on world affairs and are firm believers in established culture.

  • Gossip is a big thing in Europe, as in the rest of the world, but is often quite national in scope. But if you do happen to have the inside scoop and photos about the going-ons of European stars in Hollywood, then you should have little trouble in selling those articles for good money.

Find Out More...

Is "Intercultural" Communication a Moot Point? - Geoff Hart

Copyright © 2000 Nancy Arrowsmith
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Nancy Arrowsmith is an American who has lived and worked in Germany and Austria for 25 years. She has published several books in English and German, the latest being Das grosse Buch der Naturgeister, Thienemann Verlag. She was founder, Herausgeberin and editor-in-chief (Chefredakteurin) of Germany's first magazine for organic gardening, kraut & rueben, for six years.


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