Facebook's retreat from news has brought to an end years of rapid expansion by DMGT’s celebrity-fuelled website MailOnline and prompted investors to question the publisher’s growth prospects.
DMGT revealed that MailOnline revenues increased by just £1m in the first half of its financial year, to £61m.
The number of visitors to the website was down 9pc on last year after Facebook changed its newsfeed algorithm amid a series of controversies over “fake news” and its role in political debate. The social network changed its systems to show news stories less and personal updates from family and friends more. Google has also altered its algorithms to favour original, quality reporting.
It meant MailOnline, which employs more than 600 editorial staff, got fewer visitors despite an increase in the number coming directly to its website and apps. Revenue growth collapsed from 35pc last year to 2pc. On a like-for-like basis MailOnline sales growth fell from 19pc to 5pc.
Investors took fright after years in which MailOnline’s rapid expansion was at the centre of DMGT’s effort to navigate the decline of newspapers.
It was previously more than making up for falling sales of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, but the website’s troubles in the last six months meant overall Mail revenues slipped 3pc.
The concern was compounded by a wary outlook from chief executive Paul Zwillenberg for the second half of the year, with a warning of “challenging conditions”.
He said: “It’s frustrating trying to keep up with the ever changing whims of large partners like Facebook, luckily Facebook or Google cannot break our business.”
DMGT fell 10pc, wiping out recent gains in the wake of the £640m sale of its stake in the owner of Zoopla. DMGT has not revealed its plans for the cash.
Martin Clarke, the publisher of MailOnline, told investors earlier this year that “despite all the changing tech fashions of the past decade and the incredible changes in the digital ecosystem, our revenue growth has remained incredibly consistent”.