MailOnline has turned a profit. Cue teeth-gnashing and wailing from the sidebar of shame-addicted Twitter masses and much chin-stroking from media commentators. “Is MailOnline the future of journalism?” That’s what the tedious columns will ask. I’m here to tell you that, for better or worse, it has already claimed that title outright. Tittle tattle, linkbait and lists is the methamphetamine of the web.
For all the high-handed “open journalism” rhetoric dealt out by the Guardian, MailOnline’s turnover forecast for 2012/13 – £45 million – is the same figure lost by the entire Guardian News & Media operation in 2011/12. If – as the Guardian’s data journalists delight in telling us – figures don’t lie, MailOnline is a modern supertanker; the Guardian is the Titanic.
The MailOnline approach has plenty of space to expand into. While it is has long been the most popular UK newspaper site and kicked the New York Times into second place earlier this year, two-thirds of its revenue is still derived from UK advertisers and subscribers.
In the last set of published ABCe figures – released in May – MailOnline reported over 5.6 million unique daily users and 92 million monthly uniques. The Guardian, which takes second place among UK newspaper sites, drew in a respectable 3.8 million daily users, jumping 61 per cent on the previous year’s figure.
It’s clear that the Guardian is capable of drawing an impressive online readership, and growing that audience, but it doesn’t know how to make money from it. Meanwhile, MailOnline is a shark, attuned to its environment and ruthless in it. It is less political than its paper sibling, with one principle: making money from the maximum possible number of eyeballs.
That naked ambition is the root of MailOnline’s obsession with stars, starlets and non-entities that can occasionally seem bemusing to us. We click because we don’t know who they are; the international audience clicks because it really does want to know why Kim Kardashian dared to leave her house without a full coating of slap and some kind of marquee to protect her prized posterior.
As I have written previously, while many sneer at MailOnline, it is winning – whether we like it or not. Hits from individuals visiting the site to be appalled are nearly as valuable as those from dyed-in-the-wool fans.
If you’re horrified by MailOnline’s success, I’ve got news for you: it’s only going to get worse. Guy Zitter, managing director of the Mail newspapers, boldly declared earlier this year that MailOnline’s advertising revenue is “still not even touching the sides”. Unlike Kim’s handsy new boyfriend – about whom, of course, you can read at dailymail.co.uk. See you there.