Mail Plus checks in with 23,000 subscribers (58-year-olds who like Puccini and sudokus)

Mail front page2Fresh from claiming the title of world’s biggest newspaper website, the Daily Mail is advancing on another digital frontier with the first results from its Mail Plus tablet app. I reviewed the app on this blog shortly after its launch in February and concluded that it had raised the bar for news apps by some margin. But exactly how much has been difficult to say – until now.

Paul Field, Mail Plus’s editor, appeared at the Tablet & App Summit in Berlin this week to share the first figures from its seven months in action.

He reports 23,000 digital-only subscribers paying £9.99 a month (compared to around £20 for the print version of the Daily Mail) for an app pitched as a “luxury’ product that delivers more value than its print cousin.
ABC figures for Mail Plus have also just been released, claiming 15,000 downloads a day of the Mail Plus version of the Daily Mail, and 13,000 of the Mail on Sunday, according to Press Gazette. How that squares with Field’s subscriber number is not quite clear.

A report from the WAN-IFRA blog describes how Field took to the stage “swiping his tablet app to the sounds of Puccini, played directly from the Mail Plus app” – a naked play for the more cultured quotient of their readership.

Field says that the app’s users have an average age of 58 and “love the printed paper but, particularly in the last 12 months, they have started to love technology”, according to a report in journalism.co.uk.

Measuring engagement, the average time spent on the app is 46 minutes from Monday to Friday, 52 minutes on a Saturday and 56 minutes on a Sunday. And in a stat that shows the incredible penetration of tablets, one in five people who read the print edition of the Mail has access to a tablet – ie a million Mail readers who can access a tablet. That’s a huge amount of potential converts.

Of these pioneer 23,000, Mail Plus has identified two main groups of users, “Tentative Tappers” and “App Adventurers”, both of which they are hoping to lure from the free MailOnline with their bumper puzzles section and TV listings as the biggest carrot. I highlighted these in my review as strong features of the app that increase engagement, or ‘stickiness’.

That means serving up 30 interactive puzzles a day, with competitions between readers, and social-media integrated ‘Second Screen’ TV listings for up to 200 channels. And as part of that extra value that only a tablet can deliver, he says they are bringing a “cinematic quality” to their version of the Mail’s magazines.

I was surprised, however, to hear no mention of The Way We Were section, the app’s nostalgia magazine section that I gushed about in my review. Mining the power of memory lane was one of its most impressive innovations – surely that can’t be the last we’ve heard of that?

So the million pound question: is it working? Field admits: “We don’t yet know if this is the answer.”

[Cue the lean startup talk of building, pivoting and being prepared to … fail. I wonder how kindly the old-school newspaper management will take to the prospect of their million-pound plaything potentially amounting to nothing as native apps fall away in favour of HTML5 one-stop shop responsive design.]

You can be sure, Mail Plus is not a cheap operation. I made an educated guess of about 60 staff, including commercial/advertising etc, while Field says the team consists of eight designers, 12 editors, one video and one photo editor, taking 12 hours a day from 3pm to 3am to push out 185 pages individually designed using Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (not cheap either). So I would guess there are at least 30 working on it full-time, not to mention freelances and casuals.

On the plus side, Field says the advertising – which is interactive and allows in-app purchasing – has been strong. “We are getting advertising revenue that is disproportionate to number of subscribers,” he says. He says advertisers have been willing to pay more to reach the app’s customers – my guess is that’s partly because they’re more AB than C, and partly because they’re taking a punt on this newfangled product.

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