Why Trinity Mirror Closed People.co.uk
The ambitious online project has shut its doors just 11 weeks after it launched due to problems with its direction and technology, according to people familiar with the project.
A lack of identity, focus and - ultimately - audience were key problems.
The plan was to build a business model based on native advertising, but it never fully materialised.
Douglas told advertising industry title Marketing Week in October that the site would be solely funded through native ads, but with a strange twist.
After a trial period, advertisers were asked to sign up to be on a list of brands that journalists could choose to associate with their stories. So, an article about beauty products would be accompanied by some form of advertising from a beauty brand, and so on. "I don't ever want to do advertorial, we are never going to con the reader: it's editorial, not an advert... It's like we are taking on the role of the ad agency, PR agency or marketing agency," Douglas said.
But there was a problem of definition and technology: "There was no structure in our CMS, it was just a list, there was no idea of who were were giving and what we were giving them. Advertisers pulled out because they had no idea of what we were," the insider said.
It's notable that no Sunday newspaper has successfully built a digital audience in its own right. For many years as editor of The Sunday Times, John Witherow complained about not having a website - leading to the creation of a standalone SundayTimes.co.uk. BuzzFeed understand that Witherow, now editor of The Times, is now over-seeing the re-merger of that site and TheTimes.co.uk.
Trinity is in the middle of a huge transformation in publishing culture and practices that's still ongoing.
The Sunday People newspaper is read by 790,000 people every week on average - but just 91,000 of those readers, or 6.2%, are aged between 16 and 35. It had never had much of a digital presence, beyond an irreverent Twitter feed.
Since Fox joined the company, Trinity has launched Us Vs Th3m, a digital-only brand with a strong creative streak and audience growth that has outpaced its internal traffic targets, and latterly the data journalism site Ampp3d, which is more closely tied to the flagship Mirror brand.
This week, Trinity also promoted the two architects of those sites: Malcolm Coles was given the new role of general manager, Mirror Online - in addition to his existing role of digital product manager - and Martin Belam is now editor, new products. More investment and digital-focused hires are promised this year. There has been significant progress too in the quality of the company's many regional papers' digital activities.
There is no doubt that Trinity is taking the online publishing challenge seriously and changing its culture from a print-focused one to a multi-platform one. But People.co.uk won't be along for the ride.