Few things in recent history have sharpened news publishers’ appetite for risk like the challenge to their traditional business from the web.
The 2013 launch record at Trinity Mirror, one of the UK’s largest newspaper groups, is a testament to the heightened commitment to innovation of the UK’s commercial news publishers as they compete to capture audiences and advertising revenues on digital media.
The company, which owns the popular UK daily, The Daily Mirror, as well as a portfolio of local and regional newspapers, has taken a start-up type approach to some of its newer ventures.
In the case of UsVsTh3m, a site which creates and aggregates topical web humour and games for sharing on social media sites, the early results have been encouraging.
UsVsTh3m soft launched in May 2013, and had acquired more than 7 million unique users by November of that year. Some 57% of visitors accessed the site from mobiles or tablets and 43% from desktops. Only 2% of traffic came from search engines, showing the power of social media and recommendation in driving the site's growth.
Trinity Mirror has attributed the rapid rise in the site’s traffic – it had only one million users in September – to features such as the North-o-Meter, an "uncannily accurate online measuring tool" that humorously tested whether users displayed characteristics associated with the north of the UK.
The content is similar to that of BuzzFeed, but with a harder political edge and more interactivity.
Trinity Mirror digital product developer Malcolm Coles told the Guardian:
"This is an amazing achievement by the team to have grown so quickly in such a short space of time and shows the importance of experimentation for publishers."
Following the success of UsVsTh3m, Trinity Mirror launched Ampp3d, as “a topical, data-driven site from the Daily Mirror, making journalism more accessible through data visualisations”.
In a detailed blog post, one of the site’s founders – Martin Belam – has described the new style approach of the site which went from first discussion to launch in just five weeks.
“The publishing industry tends to silo people into writers and reporters and editors, and pictures and graphics and image people, and technology people.
“Although they all work together to produce the paper or a website, they seldom get the chance to cross-skill, and legacy structures prevent collaboration. What we’ve done differently is assemble a team of five where everybody to a greater or lesser extent can write for the web, use Photoshop like a boss, and code.
“And we are improving at it all the time, because as we work on content, we are trading skills and swapping techniques.
“We launched without any navigation on the site whatsoever. Our key use case is someone on their phone, who has just slightly lost interest in whatever it is they are meant to be doing — whether that is queuing for coffee, watching TV, or talking to their significant other. UsVsTh3m should provide a stream of funny and/or interesting stuff for them to swipe through whilst idling.”
At the time of writing, the site is not charging or monetising its content, though there is speculation that native content, sponsored features and paid for apps may all be possibilities.
The follow-up site, Ampp3d, carries both banner ads and Mirror branding.