Behind the business model of MailOnline, the biggest newspaper site in the world

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Patrick Smith, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Digital Media, Newspapers

There is much talk of paywalls at the moment, but don't forget the other side of the payfence: there is a huge opportunity in ad-supported free media and MailOnline is showing the way forward.

We were treated to an astonishing set of figures at an investor briefing from DMG Media, the consumer publishing division of DMGT, which houses the Daily Mail, daily deals site Wowcher and property and recruitment classified businesses.

Print is still hugely important to DMG as a whole - but the company expects digital revenue to exceed print by 2015, which will be quite a milestone. Mail Newspapers MD Guy Zitter stresses this is in a context of revenue growing overall, not shrinking, as this slide from the investor briefing shows:

DMG Media investor briefing - revenue split


Almost all this growth is driven by MailOnline the sixth biggest news site in the world. It has 111 million unique users a month and a very high proportion of returning users who spend a huge amount of time on the site, compared to its rivals. 

MailOnline is set to make £45 million in March in 2013 (update: that's £3.2 million in March), according to a trading update this week, and investors heard this week that that figure will reach £100 million in the next three to five years.

The usage and engagement stats are quite staggering:

DMG Media investor briefing - average global visits per day


-- Competitive set: Note that DMG sees MailOnline's competition not as other news publishers but Google, Yahoo, Facebook and MSN. Its 40 minutes per month per visitor is double that of its nearest rival, The Sun.

DMG Media investor briefing - Mail Online engagement


-- Repeat visits means lots of visits: Borrowing the footfall idea from retail, MailOnline has 230 million "touchpoints" each month, or interactions with its audience, half of them outside the UK. In the UK alone, it accounts for about 0.6 percent of total internet traffic:


DMG Media investor briefing - Mail online market share


-- The power of the homepage: Every MailOnline reader knows that the homepage goes on forever - but it's also updated in a very aggressive and calculated way. Readers know to expect something substantial and new every 30 minutes or so.

There has been much talk of readers bypassing the homepage on news sites - but Mail Online readers tend to start their journeys there, meaning readers spend an average of 35 minutes just on the homepage, more than Yahoo or YouTube.

DMG Media investor briefing - MailOnline average time spent


Here's what makes the world's biggest news site tick:

-- Customer loyalty is crucial: Mail Rewards, launched in September 2012, gives Daily Mail print readers prizes for tapping in short code printed in the daily newspaper. It has more than 800,000 members who have earned a total of £30 million in rewards - meaning the Mail has a huge and growing database on usage patterns. Growing this is a key strategic aim and it's notable that the Telegraph and Times have similar schemes.

-- Speaking of data: The parent Mail brand - print and online - has 31 million registered users. As DMG Media CEO Kevin Beatty puts it: "Understanding consumers though this level of engagement is crucial to our future."

DMG Media investor briefing - rich customer data


-- The dark social network: Is this all about social media? Not really. MailOnline editorial director Martin Clarke spoke of the importance of the "dark social network" - the sharing of links between friends via email and instant messaging services, which is more important than search or social to MailOnline's success, he says.

-- Paywalled future: Clarke was asked, quite reasonably, whether MailOnline might consider a paywall of some kind in future. "We're not throwing in the towel because we don't have to," he says, emphatically. "We don't feel at the moment that's the way to go... We have scale, engagement and growth."

Clarke argues that MailOnline's competitors - such as NYT - don't have audiences outside of their core traditional readership, whereas MailOnline is relaxed about seeking a completely different audience to the Daily Mail newspaper.

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