The Daily Mail was the first newspaper in Britain to sell one million copies. This was achieved in 1900, four years after the paper was first launched, but the newspaper was notably successful from the start, selling 300,000 copies the first day it was launched. The Daily Mail was started by Alfred Harmsworth, later known as Lord Northcliffe, who is known as one of the first great press barons. The newspaper’s immediate success is due to a combination of factors, some due to Northcliffe, and others social and technological factors in the era the newspaper was released in.

The first factors to take into consideration are the changes that had already occurred in British press in the nineteenth Century, prior to the launch of the Daily Mail. There are some important social factors to take into account. The elementary Education Act of 1870 led to an increase in literacy, resulting in more people in the lower classes being able to read a paper. Better working conditions had also been set, so people had more time to read papers.

The removal of stamp duties in 1855 resulted in a cheaper stamp press meaning more people could afford to buy a paper. This cost was further reduced in 1861 when the excise duty on paper was abolished. Technological factors were a big influence on the growth of the popular press as a whole. Within a relatively short period of time (1860-1900) a huge array of new technology was introduced, including the telephone, electric telegraph, typewriter, high-speed rotary press and half tone block for the reproduction of photographs. As a whole, when Northcliffe launched the Daily Mail newsprint had become a lot cheaper and printing methods far more efficient. The expanding railway network also meant that papers could be distributed faster and farther a field.

Modern Capitalism was also taking off, resulting in an age of materialism. This meant the beginning of mass advertising, crucial to financing newspapers. Large numbers of new publications started appearing, which meant the public would get more angles on stories. Papers started competing against each other more and more, which caused the quality of the papers to increase, and the layout to become more appealing.

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By the late nineteenth Century American press was having a large influence over changing nature of the British press. British papers were copying the American sensationalism and design, with features such as banner headlines, shorter paragraphs in a more readable style and pictures used to break up the text. Papers started to cover more human interest stories and editors used their papers to campaign for various causes. Scandal was being used to sell stories and the role of the press was changing.

There had been a shift in the press; it was no longer limited to tradition and regulations. There was a new era in journalism. It was broadening, as the readership become larger so did their demands. The press was becoming vitally important in addressing and developing political issues to all its readers. Newspapers began to develop themselves as they gained more freedom. Evidence shows that from the year 1880 to 1914 significant changes were seen in British press.

Northcliffe cleverly took into account the changing press and changing public when producing the Daily Mail. Firstly, however, some background is needed on his actions in the press prior to the Daily Mail to understand fully why he was so successful. Northcliffe didn’t go to university as he came from a poor family and needed to go straight into work. He worked in a series of jobs mainly in the field of journalism and publishing. This was not because he was interested in journalism in itself, but more because he wanted to make money, and could see the possibilities in the press.

He worked on a publication called Tit-Bits, which was small snippets of information, gathered from all over the world. He was inspired by this publication, and saw that it had a huge amount of potential, more so than the editor realised. “The Board Schools are turning out hundreds of thousands of boys and girls annually who are anxious to read. They do not care for the ordinary newspaper. They have no interest in society, but they will read anything which is simple and sufficiently interesting. The man who has produced this Tit-Bits has got hold of a bigger thing than he imagines. He is only at the beginning of a development which is going to change the whole face of Journalism.”

Northcliffe took the idea of Tit-Bits and created his own publication, Answers. This publication became hugely successful after Northcliffe used various stunts to appeal to his audience. One of these was to offer a pound a week for life to the reader who came nearest to guessing the exact amount of money in the Bank of England on a certain day. This dramatically increased the circulation of Answers.

Through his experience and success in the press Northcliffe had a broad knowledge and good base for starting the Daily Mail. Northcliffe’s half brother, Harold, realised his potential and joined him in business, the two of them founding the Amalgamated Press, which later became the world’s largest periodical publishing press. They bought the Evening News and turned it into a huge success, and after ventured onto starting their own paper, the Daily Mail.

Northcliffe wanted to start a new paper based on the style of the newspapers in America. Before the first issue of the Daily Mail appeared he had over 65 dummy runs, each in which a complete paper was produced at a cost of �40,000 each. He wanted to make sure the paper filled the hole in the market perfectly, and appealed to a wide audience. “My chief ambition- though I fear a hopeless one- is to be the maker of perfect newspapers…” The paper was eight pages long and sold for only a halfpenny. Northcliffe used slogans to sell the newspaper, for example ‘A Penny Newspaper for One Halfpenny’.

It was not the cost that made the paper so instantly popular, but rather the content and layout. The Daily Mail was the first paper in Britain that catered for the new reading public that had emerged. They needed something simpler than current newspapers, and easier to read. One of Northcliffe’s new ideas was the banner headline going right across the page, immediately grabbing the attention of his readers. He aimed his papers at the expanding middle class, and he knew that by attracting them he knew he may also get the attention of some of the lower classes.

The Daily Mail gave considerable space to human interest stories, features, and sport. It was also the first paper to devote an entire section to women, with articles on fashion and cookery. This widened the audience hugely, instantly making the Daily Mail a paper for the whole family. Northcliffe’s original ideas and hugely influenced most newspapers since this time. Northcliffe used the Daily Mail to promote inventions, keeping his readers up to date with the rapidly developing technological age they were in. He promoted products such as the telephone, electric lights, photographs, motorcycles and motorcars. Northcliffe also adapted the gimmicks and competitions he had used in Answers, an example being the offer of a prize for the first-ever flights across the channel and the Atlantic.

Northcliffe was a great supporter of the British Army, and used nation patriotism to sell his papers. The public had a strong interest in the Boer War, so Northcliffe made it clear that his paper stood for “the power the supremacy and the greatness of the British Empire”. Northcliffe’s main aim was to make money, and he created a corrupt relationship between the paper and the reader in order to sell more copies. His used advertising to excess, cleverly placing them and advertising products he knew would appeal to his readers. Some adverts were entirely devoted to women. As Britain moved into an age of materialism, Northcliffe fed them the products they desired.

Northcliffe had a huge influence over his readers, which he used to his own advantages. He allowed his readers to shape his paper, as he wanted to appeal to their every desire. However, he also used his paper to create a topic into a matter of public interest. “He understood his public, allowed for its immature and unstable qualities. He entered, in fact, into a sort of partnership with it, but he himself was a senior partner.

He wielded a unique public interest; and he exerted that influence to the uttermost.” It was Northcliffe’s relationship with the public that gained him respect from political leaders, who valued his support, realising it’s potential. In summary, the Daily Mail was made immediately successful due to Lord Northcliffe’s clever study of the changing British Press and the changes in society. He realised how to create a paper that would appeal to the widest audience possible, and succeeded in doing so.


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