Is a paper's online readership really "good for the ego" but nothing else?

News UK boss Mike Darcey thinks so.

News UK boss Mike Darcey today condemned the vast online readership numbers claimed by the likes of Mail Online and Guardian.co.uk as "good for the ego" and not much else.

He spoke out as his flagship title, The Sun, goes behind an online paywall as of 1 August. Darcey has a point.

The explosion in online readership of UK media titles has coincided with an unprecedentedly severe media slump which is now five years old.

So for the two leading free-to-air national newspapers online – the Mail and Guardian – we won’t know for sure whether they have a digital business until the economy finally picks up. But as it stands, all those online eyeballs have yet to translate into a sustainable business model.

Both Guardian News and Media and Mail Online are believed to make between £40m and £50m from the digital sides of their businesses.

In June, Mail Online attracted 8.2m "unique browsers" per day globally, and The Guardian 4.6m (according to ABC).

For Mail Online the digital income is growing fast, but it is still tiny compared with combined print and digital turnover of around £600m a year.

For Guardian News and Media that digital income needs to be seen in the context of annual costs of around £240m, and a loss in the year to April 2012 of £44.2m.

Both sites currently appear to be wedded to the free online model. If they are going to eschew the paywall, they are going to have to come up with a plan B – and do so pretty quickly.

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette. You can follow him on twitter at @domponsford.

Getting your news the traditional way, in a silly hat. Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.