The announcement on Monday that Reuters is to sell advertising space on guardian.co.uk to US advertisers is further evidence of the site’s growing popularity with international audiences.
It already has the most unique users of any newspaper website in the UK, with a global audience of almost 16 million in December. It claims that US users make up almost a third of that total.
Observers believe Guardian News & Media’s (GNM) continued commitment to online, particularly after the dotcom crash, was the reason it was able to establish itself as the market leader. While many newspaper publishers suffered from a crisis of confidence, Emily Bell, director of digital content at GNM, says that it “never wavered” from putting digital at the heart of its plans.
Today, however, all the major newspaper groups are investing heavily in their online offerings. Telegraph.co.uk has been especially aggressive in this area, recently launching seven new shows on its online video service Telegraph TV. And last week it announced plans to expand its in-house production department, which will now be able to create audio and video content for advertisers.
The site’s editor Marcus Warren is unfazed by the fact that it lost more than two million unique users in December, putting it down to the seasonal effect of the Christmas period. Warren remains confident that the site will reap the benefits of “one-offs and long-term campaigns” this year.
Tom Hyde, business development director of digital agency Profero, believes the successful sites are the ones which understand that people digest news differently online compared to print/ “People often look at more than one news source online, whereas they tend to be more loyal to one newspaper in print. The Guardian has always been known to lean towards the political left. Online that is mellowed somewhat, as it delivers news in a more accessible way.”
Loss of ‘control and calm’
Creative director at Avenue A/Razorfish Steve Thompson is working on the redesign of ft.com, due to launch this year. He believes that some of the sites simply fall short of their printed sister titles. “If you think about a paper, it’s like an old friend – you pick it up and you know how it works,” he says.
“But I don’t think websites have got there yet in that sense,” he adds. “And sometimes online readers have to contend with a lot of noise. On the Times and Telegraph sites, there is a proliferation of links and animated ads. You don’t get that same sense of calm and that you’re in control as with the newspaper.”
While many of the sites still seem to be working on finding the formula to suit them, some question their commercial viability.
One sceptical media buyer says that the more successful sites have spent huge amounts of money and do not have to make a profit. The source adds: “At the moment I don’t understand how people can make money out of it. In the US, I can see why because it has a bigger population. Free content subsidised by advertisers has only worked on TV.”
However, Bell claims that GNM’s digital P&L is showing healthy profit. And industry experts claim that the Sun.co.uk is also making money, particularly through its popular Bingo service.
Adam Sefton, head of interactive marketing at the Reading Room, believes that a strong online presence has a positive effect on a newspaper’s overall brand: “It’s about what you watch on video or download on your iPod. So if you’re going to buy a newspaper you’ll be more likely to buy the Guardian or the Telegraph.”