The Daily Mail’s Recipe for Success

The Mail Online, the four-year-old Web site offshoot of the British tabloid The Daily Mail, has somehow, someway become the second-largest newspaper Web site in the world behind the New York Times.
It’s hard to pin down The Daily Mail’s success to one thing. After all, the site’s design would make anyone with a passing sense of taste blanche. It leans heavy on the celebrity photo, piling headline upon headline on a front page that seems to run on forever. But the key might lie in what type of stories The Daily Mail carries. It is currently trumpeting a story alleging Brigitte Nielsen was one of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s many women. And subtle isn’t the watchword when it comes to headlines. A sample: “A very ugly break-up! Man with ‘face that makes children cry’ splits from woman he met on website for the aesthetically challenged.” What’s more, The Daily Mail has taken American/Hollywood-styled scandal — think Charlie Sheen — and likely discovered it has vast cross-the-pond-appeal.

Something is working. In April, the New York Times’ site attracted 46.7 million unique users globally, according to ComScore. Mail Online pulled in 38.7 million uniques — more than the Huffington Post, the BBC and The Wall Street Journal. In the U.S., the Times drew an audience of 32.9 million uniques, putting it well ahead of Mail Online’s 16.1 million. Still, the rapidly growing site is well within striking distance of USA Today (16.9 million users) the LA Times (16.4 million) and the Washington Post (16.2).

Veteran U.K. newspaper analyst Jim Chisholm offered a few theories for Mail Online’s meteoric rise. “First of all it is of course a very successful print newspaper,” he said.”I think it has the highest revenue of any newspaper in Europe.”

Chisholm added: “Most interestingly, in common with most of the most successful newspapers in the world, it has strong female bias in its readership. I believe strongly that an emphasis on female readership is as important in the online world as it is print, and consumer society. Finally Martin Clarke, the publisher of Mail Online is a genius.”
Daily Mail executives aren’t resting on their laurels. Executives firmly believe that the Times is within reach — i.e., a UK paper could actually end up being bigger on the Web in the U.S. than the paper of record.
“The gap is closing,” said Matthew Kearney, Mail Online’s recently installed U.S. CEO. “People still have to get to know us. We’re the new kid on the block. But every month we seem to be reaching a new milestone.”
Kearny noted that Mail Online’s ration between its U.S. and U.K. audience is now even, and that the company has made inroads in Canada and other parts of the English-speaking world. This past March the site overtook HuffPo in global reach. “And we’re closing the gap on the Times,” Kearny said.
The Mail Online’s U.S. push has been so successful that the company has opened two offices here: one in Los Angeles last fall and one in New York in February. It now employs 50 people in the U.S.
And the site is now customized for each region’s audience by local editors. U.S. visitors to Mail Online aren’t simply eavesdropping on the Brits as they might be with other paper’s sites but are rather viewing a localized version of the paper.
Hollywood gossip, salacious fare and viral snapshots of the likes of a midriff-baring Hermione seem to be a big key to Mail Online’s success. But Kearney also points to the paper’s coverage of serious stuff, like the death of Osama bin Laden and the Japan earthquake/tsunami, as traffic drivers.
“A story is a story,” he said. “The biggest area on our site is news, not gossip. Our stories are well written, well researched, and that proves popular across the English-speaking world. A good story in LA is going to be read in Newcastle.”
Sure, but that’s true for virtually every newspaper in the world.Yet few enjoy a global following.
And if good juicy stories were the key to worldwide success, why haven’t any of the Rupert Murdoch-owned London tabloids pulled off the same trick?  Even more glaring — The New York Post seems to have missed a major opportunity to move beyond its 5 million or so uniques in the U.S. — considering how well its mix of gossip and bombast would seem to travel.
Kearny said that social media has been key to the site’s expanding reach.
“Online news has become available to all people all of the time, and newspapers are able to publish by the minute. Good product gets shared very quickly.” Perhaps starting late online has been an advantage.
Going forward, besides catching the New York Times, Kearney said he’s got a few major goals for Mail Online: among them building a U.S. ad business and nailing mobile. To date, the site’s U.S. ad inventory has been sold by networks. A U.S. sales team hired in February is close to landing several sponsors, said Kearney, drawing interest from entertainment and auto brands. Apps for the iPhone and iPad are in the works.
As for Mail Online’s coverage, Kearney wants to figure out how to attack one of the more popular, lucrative and competitive content categories: sports (or sport, as he puts it).
“We will take that on,” he said, acknowledging that won’t be easy. “That’s not low hanging fruit, and people like ESPN do it so well. I’ve only just learned the infield fly rule.”

 

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