Stephen Foley: The trendy way to gain online readers

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The Independent Online

Outlook The Daily Mail's website is a sight to behold, a smorgasbord of celebrity tittle-tattle and fancy-that internet ephemera. There is even some news on it, and bits and bobs that might be recognisable to readers of the UK newspaper – but not much, because the Mail's online business is really just a giant dragnet designed to snare the shoals of casual browsers following the internet's latest trending topics.

ComScore has just certified this the second-most visited newspaper website in the world, after The New York Times, with nigh on 40 million readers last month. One is reminded of the edict to AOL's journalists earlier this year, when it was chasing traffic from search engines and Twitter. AOL's hapless editors were told to look for a subject that was "trending" on social networks, then look for another one, then dash off a story combining the two. It is why stories about Kim Kardashian and Muslim Playboy models will always trump the AV referendum in the hierarchy of Mail Online news stories.

Premium news sites are hoping to start charging premium rates to advertisers. But for those at the tabloid end of the market, rock-bottom prices for advertising on the web mean that Mail-size visitor numbers are needed to bring in meaningful revenues. On ComScore's new evidence, there is a real business here, but let's call it what it is: sweatshop journalism.