This week saw the Daily Mail's website claim top spot among the world's newspapers. Critics may call it a victory for quantity over quality, but top spot is top spot. And what does the Mail attribute this success to?
Drawing upon the strengths of the Daily Mail newspaper...MailOnline has re-invented popular journalism for the digital era.
Now this is where the Mail is being far too modest. The runaway success of the website owes very little to piggy-backing on "the strengths of the newspaper".
The newspaper's success is based on targeting a very specific audience. It writes for the predominantly white, middle-aged, middle class of middle England, pushing a news agenda intended to create, then exploit fears about health scares, hoodies, liberals and the impact of multiculturalism. The paper's parochialism is the reason it is successful. It is also the reason it is so loathed.
At the last count, the Daily Mail's parish was around 1.9 million strong.That's a lot of readers but it goes no way towards explaining the current success of the Mail's website. Not least because the MailOnline has taken a completely different approach to finding readers.
It set about attracting readers by following the agenda of others, rather than trying to set its own. It is dedicated to serving content people were already searching for online. As such, much of the success of the Daily Mail website is the result of a focus on US reality TV, celebrity, pop music and naked flesh. Lots and lots of naked flesh:
Of course the newspaper content does make it onto the website but clearly the focus for growth is not on the paper's traditional constituency or content. After all, how many readers of the Daily Mail newspaper know or care who Kim Kardashian is? Yet alongside Lady Gaga and Rihanna, Kardashian is an ever-present on the Daily Mail website.
The real engine room of the Mail's online success is the picture desk. If somebody famous is spotted in public wearing a revealing dress or a bikini the pictures will be on the Daily Mail's website the next day.
If a model takes part in a shoot for a new line of lingerie or poses for a glossy magazine, the Mail will run the pics. If a celebrity falls out of a dress or reveals a little too much when stepping out of a car, a full upskirt or down cleavage record of the event will be available in the right hand column of the Mail's website:
The Daily Mail's modesty no doubt prevents it from saying it has become the go-to online destination for pictures of famous ladies in tight dresses, bikinis and underwear, but it has aggressively and successfully cornered that market by flooding its website with content promising Google users that is exactly what they'll find.
There is no denying the Mail's orchestrated success in courting pure online numbers and although it is a model which advertisers are less excited about now than they were in the dot-com boom of the late nineties, the Mail is clearly confident this remains a recipe for success.
Much of the web-only content is base commodity, aimed at drawing in any traffic it can, though the focus is clearly on the US. The majority of the photos are bought from picture agencies and the lion's share of the web-only copy is cut and pasted from US wire services. In fact, the prolific 'Daily Mail Reporter' is now cutting and pasting so much US wire copy - irrespective of how trite the news appears -they no longer bother trying to keep pace with changing US words such as 'sidewalk' or 'cell phone' to the English equivalents.
This may seem a small point, but for a newspaper to disregard its style guide - as crucial a part of its identity as the masthead - in pursuit of traffic is clear evidence its website and paper are being run as very different properties:
None of these observations are intended as a criticism of the Daily Mail. It has set out to sell cheap commodity content based on titillation and US celebrities in various states of undress and it does it to great success. But the Mail really is being unnecessarily modest - or deliberately disingenuous - when it claims the runaway success of its website is an extension of its success in print. The two could hardly be more different and whatever it says, the Mail clearly wouldn't have it any other way.