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Britain’s second-biggest selling daily newspaper, The Daily Mail, has finally shaken its dislike of the Internet and announced it will launch a Web version.

The right wing paper, renowned for running Internet scare stories, will open up for business in February 2004 at its existing domains DailyMail.co.uk and MailOnSunday.co.uk.

It remains reticent about its plans however. Despite a slew of questions, we were told only that 50 to 75 per cent of the content on the site will come from the daily papers, and that there will be “some areas” that will require a subscription. The arm running the site - Associated New Media - will release more details in January.

It is known that the site will feature message boards (presumably free of grooming paedophiles), email newsletters and polls. It is not known though if the company is building an archive of material to be available online - a valuable source of revenue for other newspaper websites.

The project is managed by Andrew Hart - the former CEO of Ask Jeeves (UK) and MD of Sunday Business - who was appointed as head of ANM at the end of April. He said in a press release that the website would be “very similar” to the printed versions but would “reflect the bias towards slightly younger and more affluent users that is associated with Internet usage”.

He added: “The Internet is now a mainstream medium and over half of the Daily Mail’s readership are online. We recognise that our customers want to access content through different channels in different ways and it is essential that we recognise this.”

The extremely limited DailyMail.co.uk site has been drawing thousands of hits a day, leading execs to realise they may be missing out on a trick. As usual, this is couched in terms of “brands”. “In addition, bringing the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday online will extend our advertisers and commercial partners’ access to the power of the brands and the valuable audiences the titles attract.”

Why the long wait before joining the Internet revolution? “We wanted to wait until we were confident that an online product would be profitable, in order to extend our brand’s reach to the benefit of our commercial partners and advertisers.”

Presumably this also means we will see an end to the hysterical Web scare stories that have been the paper's forte for years. And the company may cease to view the Internet as a free source of news.

So there you have it. This leaves only Richard Desmond’s Express papers without a proper website - an odd position since he made his fortune providing pornographic material, an industry that has embraced the Internet more vigorously than almost any other. ®

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