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 .