I was pretty revved up about the online future of the UK’s national press after Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke’s barn-storming Society of Editors speech last week.
He said his website was poised to challenge the dominance of the BBC when it comes to online news, revealing that it now attracts more than fifty million unique users globally – a stupendous figure.
So I was pretty deflated to read in DMGT’s annual results that all those unique users (Mail Online was the top national newspaper website for most of its financial year) only equated to revenue (that’s revenue rather than profit) of £12m.
That compares with total revenue across the Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail and Metro businesses of £850m.
So the second biggest newspaper website in the world by volume is nowhere near sustainable on its own.
When I asked DMGT for an explanation over this apparently very low figure – they said they were just pleased with the rate of growth and the high number of unique users.
Mail Online digital income is growing fast. They may be focusing on building the traffic up before then working out how to monetise it. And Clarke hinted at new retail and paid-for services to be launched next year.
But that £12m figure certainly suggests that sheer volume doesn’t get you far commercially as a news website. When the cost of sales and other overheads are factored in it doesn’t pay for a whole lot of journalists – perhaps it is enough to support a twentieth the number who work on the print titles?
Compare these figures to www.guardian.co.uk. Speaking in May, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger revealed expected online revenues of £40m – this from a website which nowadays has around two thirds the traffic of Mail Online.
The moral of the story? The Guardian’s strategy of providing in-depth information in vertical markets – such as media, environment, society, education and so on – is a lot more lucrative than the Mail’s showbiz-fuelled race for readers. So far anyway.