£25m? Not quite enough

The Mail's online revenue is still a drop in the ocean.

According to publisher Martin Clarke (reported by the Guardian)  Mail Online is on course to “break even” this year with revenue of £25m.

But of course, “break even” is a rather subjective term in this context. It may be set to cover its own running costs, but it will still owe a great deal of its success to publishing the content of Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday print editions – whose editorial resources it is nowhere near to covering.

Mail Online has become the success it is by going against industry orthodoxy and investing in its own dedicated team of 100-plus web-only journalists. The result is a site which reaches as many as 100m unique browsers a month worldwide (a figure which we should take with a large pinch of salt*) without doing any discernable harm to print sales, which remain among the most buoyant in the industry.

That £25m digital revenue has to be seen in the context of total revenue for the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Metro of £862m in 2011.

It is only because Associated Newspapers’ print titles remain successful  (generating an operating profit last year of £76m) that the company has been able to indulge in the luxury of creating such a huge, and as I write, loss-making website.

It may be the most successful newspaper website in the world. But revenue of £25m places it, in terms of the size of business it is, as equivalent to a biggish UK regional daily.

If the world market leader in terms of newspaper websites is still only on course to generate £25m in revenue this year – we are a very long way indeed from online news supporting anything like the level of journalistic investment which print still does.

A starting point to answering why that is, is the fact that Mail Online is ad-only and copy sales account for around half Associated Newspapers’ total revenue.

It is also worth noting that according to the National Readership Survey, some  4.3m people a day read the Daily Mail print edition in the second half of 2011. Assuming an average read time of around 40 minutes (again according to the NRS)– that’s 172m advertiser-minutes a day.

In February, Mail Online averaged 2.4m UK browsers a day (let’s forget about the more difficult to monetise worldwide audience for the present). Assuming a generous average time on the site of  6 minutes (Martin Clarke has previously reported an average dwell time of 5.7 minutes)– we are still only looking at 14m advertiser minutes a day.

The worldwide average readership for Mail Online was 5.7m unique browsers in February.

*According to ABC, 30.6m “unique browsers” accessed Mail Online in February. A unique browser is defined as a different device so it is anyone’s guess how many human beings this equates to.

But it does seem rather far-fetched to think that 30m people, or about three quarters of the UK’s online population, is a Mail Online reader.

This article originally appeared in Press Gazette.

Mail photograhers, Photograph: Getty Images.

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.