Despite sharing a parent brand and overheads, very little connects the business models of world-straddling MailOnline and the Middle England-baiting Daily Mail newspaper. But this isn’t just about print vs digital, it’s a case of very different audiences. 

Quite how different was made clear from a presentation at the World Publishing Expo from Paul Field, editor of Mail Plus, a daily tablet edition of the newspaper which launched 18 months ago on Kindle Fire last October, Android in December and the iPad February. (Updated)

Field says articles from the print newspaper make up only around a quarter of the articles on MailOnline. He says the website, according to some metrics the largest newspaper website in the world, has a “completely different audience to the print brand.”

“The majority of MailOnline users especially internationally wouldn’t make any association with the print product at all,” he says. The average age of a Mail newspaper reader is 58; for the website it’s closer to half that.

Meanwhile  Mail Plus is aimed squarely at “Mr and Mrs Mail” – older people interested in the same news and issues found in the print product, and with a much more UK focus. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in digital products. Initial research by the Mail found that one in five of its audience had access to a tablet – above average for the population at the time. 

What the Mail built

Mail Plus front pageThe Mail Plus app is heavily based on the print version of the ail, but it  isn’t a simple PDF replica.

The production process, which uses Adobe’s DPS publishing platform, for a single issue, involves eight designers, 12 editors and specialists in areas such as video production.

Field says a recent representative daily edition had some sort of interactive content on each of its 186 pages. Additional digital features include panoramic photos, cookery videos, puzzles and the ability to shop for items talked about in the addition without leaving the app. 

That takes resources, and Field says there are 35 80 journalists, developers and “technologists” working on the app. (Updated)

Field is clear that the thinking behind the digital edition is to build a quality, premium package for which people will pay, which stands in stark contrast to the high-volume ad-funded approach of the MailOnline.

Is it working?

Taking your paying print audience with you into a digital world is a nice idea, but so far Mail Plus can only claim very limited success. 

Though Field says the shell app has had “hundreds of thousands” of downloads, only 27,000 people are paying through the app for subscriptions. That’s despite extensive support from Apple and Amazon, which have both put the app in their editor’s choice sections. Google Play hasn’t done this, which Field explains thus: “Google really aren’t interested in newspapers and magazines.”

Mail Plus royal baby iPadField’s team is targeting non-subscribers who have already downloaded the app and is planning to offer them a free first edition, and a metered model offering 20 or 30 pages of a chosen issue free before asking users to sign up.

When it comes to advertising, Field won’t reveal what sort of rates ads in the app command, saying only the rates are “disproportionate to the subscriptions we’ve got”. He cites a recent campaign by YouView, which sponsored the apps TV listings, for “probably more than they needed to”. 

One question Field didn’t address when Mail Plus might break even. This could well be because the staff and tech costs associated with producing such a large, daily interactive edition using Adobe DPS were too high for any publisher to break even with. 

Field concedes his company doesn’t know whether Mail Plus is the right answer to the question of how to make people pay for digital news, but he remains bullish on the fundamental thinking behind it:

Our future won’t be in breaking news, what we believe is that with a product like ours, having lots of rich features, content, lots of rich interactivity and premium content [consumers] will come back for it, they will pay for luxury. “

Update: This article was amended on 08/10/2013 to correct the number of journalists working on Mail Plus and the launch dates for the app.