So who is winning the prop@g@nda w@r?

Has been caught out by the new ABCe internet reports? His dispute with the Guardian over who has the biggest hits rages on. So what does make of it?

In terms of monetising eyeballs, metrics matter. As we all know. So the advent of the "ABCe" figures, providing audited data on unique users and page impressions on a monthly basis ... No, come back, please. You have not stumbled into anorak's corner by mistake. No more jargon, except in quotes. Promise.

Now a number of these website people do talk like this, but many don't. These are usually the journalists. But what they lose in cyber jargon, they make up for in sledging competitors - just as they did in newspapers and at awards dinners.

The news websites are now tremendously important, the life-saver in an age of declining newspaper sales. Or so some think, and all hope.

Until now it has been hard to compare the success of different sites. While for years we have had audited, comparable sales figures for the printed press, from a single, trusted independent source, there was no such universal measure of the popularity of websites. It was claim, counter-claim, and choose your statisticswith care.

Not that the newspapers represent the righteous in this area. For years the devil has been in the small print - how many bulk copies given away on trains and planes. But it has been even easier for the websites to confuse, with so many different things to measure in so many ways.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations, a trusted brand in the print world, formed ABCe for that internet colony inhabited by newspapers. It was decided that the most important measure was the "unique user" - a person entering a site at any page and counted once in the audit period. It would also publish page impressions each time a page was visited. The first group reports have just been released, giving a summary of the newspaper circulation figures along with the website usage data.

In March, Guardian Unlimited (and its range of sites) had 15.1 million users across the world. This was the highest figure for newspaper websites, although the BBC has the most users - more than double the Guardian. In second place came Times Online with 8.0 million followed by The Sun at 7.8 million and on 7.4 million. So far, these are the only newspaper groups engaging with the reports - others should follow.

The Guardian (newspaper) trumpeted its success on the front page: "An end to web propaganda: now the first official audited figures. Guardian Unlimited has nearly twice the number of users of any other UK newspaper website."

The Daily Telegraph ran this line across the top of page two: " is now the UK's most visited quality newspaper website." On the face of it, if you lack the geek's eye for detail, that is a straight contradiction of the Guardian statement, and the ABCe figures. But notice the word is "visited"', not "used". And it is UK figures, not global. The Telegraph uses Hitwise, which measures the number of times anybody has visited the site, rather than the number of different people who have done so over the period. The Hitwise data, measured in market share for March, gives the Telegraph 36.5 per cent, the Guardian 30.9 per cent and the Times 27.7 per cent. The figures for UK unique users in March, on the ABCe measure, are the Guardian 5.4 million, the Telegraph 3.0 million and the Times 2.9 million.

Edward Roussel, the Telegraph's digital editor, is not in the least defensive about his paper's claim, which was used in an advert and sparked a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA cleared the Telegraph.

"The traffic you can monetise is your UK traffic," says Mr Roussel. "It's what lets you pay journalists. If you're a vanity publisher, the larger number of people you get, the better. The Guardian has a global strategy. I've yet to hear a Guardian executive talk about revenues and profit. Reason: they don't make a profit. If you're a commercial publisher, it's different.

"The audience we're targeting is British. If we don't cover our costs, we're not in business."

"We didn't complain about the Telegraph," says Emily Bell, director of digital content at the Guardian. "Internecine spats seem a bit 'old media' to me. If only the Telegraph was our main competitor, but that will increasingly be Google and the aggregators. I think this new presentation of metrics is entirely healthy. This is not an inter-paper war; we can be collectively professional. The competition is much greater outside our peer set."

Anne Spackman, editor-in- chief of Times Online, says she cannot have any confidence in the Hitwise measure. She too welcomes the ABCe monthly reports, although they have started at a point when her website has had a tricky relaunch and the unique user figure is down. It will take a month or two to build back to a "true"' figure

The publication of regular audited figures is a mark of online news coming of age. The newspaper websites accept they are in a competitive market that matters - not just for advertising, the most important thing, but also esteem, profile and audience.

The Guardian has held centre stage for a long time because it was an early entrant, it was funded and it was good. But now we are entering the second era of newspaper websites and it will be much more competitive. The Guardian is rebuilding its site gradually and this will continue for another year. It is not like print, says Ms Bell - you cannot just relaunch the whole thing.

Ms Spackman is off to California this week for a meeting with Rupert Murdoch and his senior digital executives. The gathering, she says, will be "exceptionally focused" - on the internet of course. "There are big questions," she adds, "about how you balance paper and web. It is very exciting. The BBC and Guardian invested early and carried on through. Now we are investing very heavily."

At the Independent, which has focused on compact matters more than the website over the past two years, there was a meeting of top executives last week to discuss web strategy. The site has around three million unique users at present. "We will have a redesigned site by September," says Richard Withey, global director of interactive media. "We will invest in the innovative approach that we've always taken with the newspaper. We want to use our web-savvy readers to generate more content."

Suddenly everybody's doing it. Within a year all the quality papers will have relaunched their sites and will be scrambling for revenues. At present the Telegraph is making the noise. It is annoying its rivals with user claims, and then taking the argument to them when they moan.

The new monthly data will prove as interesting as the newspaper circulations- though the agreement over the figures to be published may spoil the robust, if lofty, trading of insults between the website bosses. This would be a pity. We would have to concentrate on hooded cameramen standing beside large wheelie bins waiting for the next free London papers to be dumped.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little