Compelling content is king for the newspaper business too

How healthy is the newspaper business?

If you look at print, the long-term prognosis is not encouraging overall, certainly not in the UK and to a large extent neither in the US, especially as the declining circulation and revenue of print newspapers occurs alongside a shift in emphasis to online versions.

We’ve seen some radical such shifts this year, notably the closure of the printed Newsweek magazine and its continuation as a digital-only publication. Quartz, a digital-only business magazine, launched in September. In July, the Financial Times said that worldwide digital subscriptions surpassed those for print for the first time. We also saw an interesting experiment on Christmas Day when the Telegraph in the UK published a digital-only edition on a day that traditionally sees no newspapers at all. The print ones, that is.

Indeed, in digital the mainstream media picture looks much more encouraging and interesting as eMarketer reports in assessing which are the top ten newspapers online, worldwide, ranked by the number of visitors.


Top of the list is the UK’s Daily Mail. Or rather, the Mail Online, its digital edition – not at all the same content or focus as the printed newspaper edition.

Quoting comScore data, eMarketer says that the Mail Online website attracted over 50 million unique visitors in October, the most of any online newspaper. It adds that despite a partial paywall instituted in 2011, websites affiliated with The New York Times ranked second, attracting over 48 million unique visitors, followed by two other well-established outlets, The Guardian and Tribune newspapers.

The appearance on the list of People’s Daily Online (fifth) and Xinhua News Agency (seventh) attest to the growing size and engagement of China’s internet news audience, eMarketer noted, stating:

[…] 644 million people worldwide visited online newspaper sites this October, which [comScore] estimates to be 42.6% of the world’s internet users. As their business models continue to tilt away from print and toward digital, newspaper outlets around the world are competing to win the attention of this large and growing audience.

In assessing the Mail’s performance as the most-visited newspaper on the web, eMarketer says:

[…] unlike The New York Times or The Guardian, [the Daily Mail] does not feature much in the way of original reporting on its website. Yet it has managed to grab a bigger share of the online audience than either of those organizations through its relentless focus on catering to the tastes of its global audience.

The Daily Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, told The New Yorker in April that he thought the Mail Online was succeeding because it had identified a large niche in the news market:

“At its best, American journalism is unbeatable. But the problem with many of your newspapers is that they became too high-minded, too complacent, and self-regarding … They forgot that there’s a huge market out there of people who are serious-minded but also want some fun in their reading.”

The bold text is my emphasis.


And maybe that is precisely the key to the Mail’s success in attracting people to its digital content:

  1. Understand your audience with precision – no guesswork.
  2. Offer them compelling content (see above for a clue to the Mail’s definition of ‘compelling content’).
  3. Make that compelling content relevant (the Mail Online has a specific US edition to cater to a huge market).
  4. Make that content easy to obtain (web, mobile apps, no paywalls as it’s ad supported), consume and share.

Looks like a winning formula.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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