“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” — Gold Hat, Treasure of the Sierra Madre
As newspapers around the world rush to erect paywalls to bolster their declining revenue — with Britain’s Telegraph and Sun papers just the latest to join the parade, along with the Washington Post — there are a few holdouts who insist on generating revenue the old-fashioned way: namely, through advertising. One of the most prominent proponents of this model is the Daily Mail, which has become one of the world’s largest news websites. The Mail’s approach may not be for everyone, but according to the paper it is working extremely well, thank you very much.
The data behind that boast comes from an investor presentation that Media Briefing sat in on recently by the paper’s parent company, DMG Media, in which the company projected that its digital revenue could soon exceed its print revenue — a transition that few newspapers could even think about realistically at this point, let alone forecast for the near future. And the Mail says this isn’t happening as a result of declining revenue overall, as it is with some newspapers.
So what accounts for this kind of success? Critics would argue that it is the Mail‘s somewhat lackadaisical approach to accuracy, since a number of the newspaper’s most popular stories consist of rumors or salacious tidbits that in some cases turn out not to be true. But is this any different from any number of tabloid newspapers before the web came along? It may not be the course that the New York Times or Washington Post want to take, but there is no arguing with the results.
In a nutshell, the Mail‘s approach is to give the web what it wants — interesting stories, many of them about celebrities or odd events, and plenty of variety: the paper says it updates the home page every 30 minutes at least, which it believes is part of the reason it gets over 100 million unique visitors a month. And the engagement levels aren’t just orders of magnitude larger than other newspapers, but impressive even compared to sites such as Yahoo:
Obviously, not everyone can be (or wants to be) the Daily Mail. But whatever its flaws, the paper has done a pretty good job of being web-native, not just recreating a paper experience online. It’s the same approach that digital-only content publishers like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post have taken, and while it may not produce as much revenue as print advertising does, the Mail has shown that it is possible to grow that business.
And what about a paywall? Editorial director Michael Clarke said during the presentation: “We’re not throwing in the towel because we don’t have to. We don’t feel at the moment that’s the way to go… We have scale, engagement and growth.” (Note: We are going to be discussing different models for monetization at our paidContent Live conference in New York on April 17).