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 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

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.