It’s been a mad couple of years. It’s been gratifying being part of the Mail & Guardian Online success story. We have a small staff of only 10 full timers or so, but they are passionate about the brand. We have seen the site double its local readership and triple its international readership in just over a year or so to become the fourth biggest online publisher in the country (so say Nielsens). This is as a result of the hard work by our online editor Riaan “Rinki” Wolmarans and his team who have put in the hours. In the five years I have been here we have grown the online division from two people (myself and current news editor Matthew “Burbs” Burbidge) up to a staff of 10.
It’s also been fantastic to see the revenues of the site grow to where we were a profitable division last year for the first time in our 11-year history — and it looks like this year we’ll even beat what we did last year. In fact, revenues have increased four-fold over the last two years after we overhauled our online sales strategy about two years ago.
The one negative aspect of our growth has been the technical side of the business which we outsource. Trying to manage this relationship has been one of the most challenging aspects of our careers. Our technical support has been marked by inefficiency and lack of support. New efforts are afoot to improve this aspect of our business, but this has been the major obstacle in our way.
Next year is going to be an exciting one. With the M&G Online now entrenched as a major online player in the online advertising world, we’ll look forward to capitalising further on growing readership and our online sales strategy led by Bryan “BK” Khumalo.
There is going to be more integration with the M&G newspaper and we’ll embark on a convergence strategy that will see us innovate and try things that have never been done before. Part of this strategy will include more multimedia, useage of flash and more integration with citizen media. We’ll try to do more original reporting and be less reliant on the wires. We’ll entrench ourselves on more platforms such as mobile and, and, and…. technical issues permitting, the site will get a redesign — we are looking at a wide-format site, with a much cleaner look.
Vincent Maher, the former head of Rhodes University New Media, has recently joined us with an array of skills to lead these new strategies. Part of the new strategy will include enhancing our leisure subsites such as motoring, travel, arts and technology (a weakness on our site). We’ll also be looking at creating new online publishing and service brands.
It’s going to be a wild 2007.