Charleston, W.Va., newspaper gets cash windfall in Web deal
January 30, 2014 11:46 PM
The homepage of the Charleston Daily Mail, which has become charlestondailymail.com after its more common domain was sold to the big London media outlet.
By Kim Lyons / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Charleston Daily Mail, a 100-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning publication in the capital of the Mountain State, finally has decided to play an ace that it has been holding for a while, bringing in a large cash windfall at a time when newspapers nationwide are looking for new revenue.
The Charleston Daily Mail sold its Web address to the much larger Daily Mail of London, a similarly named newspaper that has been interested for quite a while.
"It's kind of been lore around the Charleston newsroom that the London paper has wanted this Web address since the start of the Internet," said Brad McElhinny, Charleston Daily Mail editor and publisher.
That the West Virginia newspaper even owned the domain name is credited to a forward-thinking copy editor who grabbed the dailymail.com address back in the 1990s, well before anyone realized how valuable it might be.
"But times are different for newspapers now, and a domain name and a Web presence is more valued than ever," Mr. McElhinny said.
How much was it worth? A Daily Mail spokesman did not respond to requests for comment, but the London-based Guardian newspaper -- a Daily Mail competitor -- reported the sale price was believed to be more than 1 million pounds, which is roughly $1.6 million at current exchange rates.
Norman "Trip" Shumate, president of the Charleston Daily Mail's parent company, Charleston Newspapers, confirmed the sale to Daily Mail parent company Daily Mail & General Trust. He declined to discuss the terms, but said the sale closed in November.
Mr. McElhinny said the figure was substantial enough that the Charleston publication has been able to purchase a new content management system for its website and invest in new cameras for its photographers.
"That's a significant reinvestment in the company, just like a new printing press would be," he noted.
The Daily Mail of London has been beefing up its American presence over the past few years, and opened an office in New York City in 2012. The American version of its website is mailonline.com, which redirects users to dailymail.co.uk/ushome.
And while Audit Bureau of Circulation figures show the Daily Mail's main website -- DailyMail.co.uk -- experienced a slight decline in traffic in December, that site is still by far one of the most-visited news sites worldwide, with 161.3 million unique visitors in 2013, compared to its closest competitor, the Guardian, with 85.2 million.
In November 2013, the month of the sale, the Daily Mail site had 59 million unique visitors, compared to the Charleston paper's 174,000 unique visitors for the same period, according to analytics research site comScore.
So, with such a robust online audience, why seek out a whole new .com domain name?
It's possible that a .com address is more attractive to advertisers than a co.uk site, but it's debatable whether that would be significantly more lucrative as some media reports have suggested, said Alex Davis, assistant director of engagement with Smith Brothers Agency on the North Side.
"It's more likely that it's a matter of convention, since the .com addresses are ubiquitous," Mr. Davis said. His agency typically recommends that clients buy all the possible top-level domains related to their name, and then redirect traffic from the various addresses to one main .com address.
The Charleston paper's Web address is now CharlestonDailyMail.com, making it a closer match to the paper's print name.
Mr. McElhinny said the Charleston site's Google analytics data show the top referral to its new domain is still its old address, dailymail.com.
"Even before the switch, we would see a fair amount of traffic to our site from Europe, but it was mostly visitors who would quickly bounce away from the site," indicating they were likely looking for the UK version of the Daily Mail.
For the time being, Mr. McElhinny said, a geographic redirect is in place. That means readers who are using computers in the paper's potential circulation area will be sent to its new Web address if they go to dailymail.com.
Mr. Shumate said the Charleston paper remains "very concerned" about the domain name sale, and its potential negative impact on Web traffic. "We have a detailed transition plan in place, but how do we get them to change their habits?"
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