Mail Online prepares for digital revenue lift-off

Mail Online remained the UK’s most visited newspaper site during April, pulling in 40m unique users. Here’s the league table, measured by daily average browsers during the month:

Mail Online: 2.37m (Up 74.5% YOY)

Guardian.co.uk: 1.84m (Up 22.4% YOY)

Telegraph.co.uk: 1.58m (Up 28.5% YOY)

Independent.co.uk: 0.46m (Down 2.1% YOY)

Mirror Group Digital: 0.44m (Up 11.4% YOY)

It has become fashionable to thumb your nose at numbers like these, which don’t reflect things like engagement.

But just look at the contrast between the eyeballs attracted by Mail Online and its ability to monetize them.

Digital revenues from the Mail Online rose by a creditable 20% to £5.4m during the six month period to March. This suggests a run-rate of nearly £13m for the coming year, if growth continues at a similar pace.

Yet this is way behind the £40m of digital revenues budgeted by Guardian News & Media for the current year. You’d have to guess that telegraph.co.uk is playing in a similar ballpark.

Of course, the comparison isn’t entirely fair. By flogging jobs, property, travel and motors, Associated Northcliffe Digital makes nearly £100m a year in additional revenues.

But if we simply focus on newspaper companion sites, it remains clear that Mail Online is experiencing huge audience growth that it has yet to monetize. Its rivals went through this nervy process a couple of years ago.

Looking ahead, the key question is whether Mail Online has got the tools and sales teams in place to sell the hell out of its inventory between now and Christmas.

The site needs to exploit its own audience growth and encourage advertisers to defect from the newly-paywalled Times and the Sunday Times.

Paul Hayes, News International’s top salesman, joked this week that he will be “in the shit” if Wapping’s paywalls don’t work. This is because he wrote the business plan.

At the Mail Online, publisher Martin Clarke might find himself in a similar position if digital growth disappoints during the next six months.

I doubt it will: Clarke sounds bullish. Commercially, this could be a real breakthrough moment for consumer digital revenues at Associated Newspapers.

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