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

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.