What factors enabled the Daily Mail to be so immediately successful when it was launched in 1896?

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What factors enabled the Daily Mail to be so immediately successful when it was launched in 1896?

The Daily Mail became Britain’s best selling paper as soon as it was launched in 1896. It not only marked the real beginning of British popular journalism, but also brought daily news to the breakfast tables of the mass British public rather than to the few elites in the society. The historical background, the climate of the British press and human conditions were the main factors that ensured the paper’s success. This essay will look at these factors from different angles, together with the influences they had on the Mail’s success.

First of all, it is necessary to know some history about the British press industry. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the control of the press was highly restricted by the British monarchy. Even though the Bill of Rights in 1689 opened the way to freedom of speech in Parliament, it did not help much with the freedom of press, when compared with the American constitution a century later. Up until 1855, The Times enjoyed its unmatched position, the technology used were the steam-driven press, and the number of people who could read newspapers was quite limited. For example, when the population of the United Kingdom was 27 million in 1848, the circulation of The Times merely passed 30,000. This number is questionable because it did not take account of these same papers, which got passed around among working-class readers. However, when the paper became thicker from four to eight or even more pages, the proprietors still failed to pay attention to the majority in the society, namely, the working class. In other words, The Times merely targeted the elite. 

In the same way, the public themselves were not much interested in buying newspapers either. Firstly, the papers were too expensive to buy; secondly, nobody could bother to spend time wading through the long and boring contents. Take an example, on 6 May 1896, the Daily News reported a Parliament proceeding in 15,000 words. There was also 2,000 words about Persia and Russia as a leading article on the Standard. Furthermore, the shortest weather report on the Chronicle on 4 May 1896 was a hundred words (“The wheat crop on well-favored and well-drained soils is looking very well”).

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The weather is changeable at all times, so is the press climate. When the reduction in Stamp Duty from 4d to a penny and a cut in the advertising duty from 3s 6d to 1s 6d came into effect, the real newspaper revolution initiated by the Daily Mail was about to arrive. During this period, The Times dominated from Napoleonic era to 1855 for nearly 40 years, this was followed by the Daily Telegraph, which led the way until 1895. During this second period, the Daily Telegraph made headway into the wider public audience by starting to include reports on issues of marriage.


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