£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

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.