UK news sites conquer US... but where's the payback?

Mail Online, the web site of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, is now the most widely-read British newspaper site in the US, according to figures from Nielsen/Netratings’ US audience panel, but its editorial director says it is primarily interested in attracting UK readers.

The data shows Mail Online with a US monthly audience of 4.137 million in July, marginally ahead of Guardian Unlimited, which had 4.131 million US users and is planning to launch a US-focused version of the site.

The figures show that both the Mail and Guardian have a bigger online audience in the US than all but the five biggest US newspaper websites – the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and WSJ.com.

But Mail Online editorial director Martin Clarke, who has overseen this rapid growth over the past year, said the site was doing nothing to make money from its overseas audience.

“I’m not saying there will be no way to monetise overseas viewers in the future, but we can’t particularly see one at the moment, and that’s the same for every site,” he said.

Clarke said: “The site is tailored for UK-based users – that’s the figure we judge ourselves on and, in the long term, it’s the UK users that matter.

“We’re very grateful to have all the overseas users that come and see the site, but at the end of the day, we’re a British paper catering primarily for British-resident people.”

Mail Online astonished rival publishers last week when its first published ABCe audit since early 2006 documented a meteoric rise to become Britain’s second most-read newspaper website. According to ABCe, Mail Online had 11.8 million unique users in July, putting it ahead of all other UK newspaper sites except Guardian Unlimited.

Unlike Nielsen/Netratings, which bases its figures on national panels of internet users, ABCe audits publishers’ server logs. These are global in scope and therefore give higher figures.

Mail Online’s ABCe certificate included geographical breakout data, which showed that just 22 per cent – 2.67 million – of Mail Online’s unique visitors lived in the UK, with 9.2 million from the rest of the world.

Guardian Unlimited remained the most-widely read UK news site in July, with 16.06 million global readers. It also included geographical data, showing that 37 per cent of the Guardian Unlimited readership – 5.92 million unique users – is UK-based, with 10.14 million in the rest of the world.

The Mail’s scepticism about the commercial value of foreign readership is shared by Telegraph.co.uk, which recorded a 27 per cent month-on-month increase in its ABCe figures, leaving it fifth among the newspapers that published their ABCe figures.

Telegraph Media Group digital editor Ed Roussel said: “These global numbers look impressive, but in terms of what pays – at least in the short- to medium-term – it’s going to be the UK traffic.” Roussel said having a large audience dispersed around the world was of little use to advertisers, who are usually interested in targeting a specific group within the UK.

“People overestimate the value of global unique users and underestimate the value of UK unique users,” said Roussel. He said between 40 and 50 per cent of Telegraph.co.uk users were based in the UK. Another third of the site’s traffic comes from the US.

Not all online publishers share this scepticism. The Guardian’s stated ambition is to use the Internet to become world’s leading liberal voice.

“Commercially, there is undoubtedly value,” said Guardian head of digital media development Tom Turcan.

Turcan said the Guardian is selling advertising abroad to third parties and is looking at options for the future.

“It’s less than in the UK, but we have significant revenue streams coming from North America and continental Europe,” said Turcan.

In May, the Guardian appointed American journalist Michael Tomasky as editor of a US-facing web site, Guardian America.

These efforts leave Roussel cold: ‘There are a lot of people with lofty ambitions of becoming global news services but I think it’s a very competitive environment, and you’re best off doing what you know best and trying to defend and expand your own market. I think some of this talk of taking on US news services is misplaced.’

Telegraph.co.uk’s users, did not include a geographical breakdown of its traffic, but Roussel said it would be doing so in the near future.

‘It behoves us to become more transparent, so it’s something we will be doing, probably pretty soon.”

Times Online’s traffic grew 9.22 per cent month-on-month 10.54m unique users, 23.72 per cent more than in July 2006. The Sun Online was fourth with 9.44m unique users, a 45.18 per cent jump over last July. The Mirror, Express and Star web sites do not publish their ABCe audits. The Independent has signalled its intention to begin publishing ABCe figures later this year.

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