Infographic du jour, Hearst edition

By Felix Salmon
June 18, 2012

Infographics are invidious things: they seem to have an astonishing ability to make people simultaneously switch off their brains and reblog them. And today sees a prime example, from Hearst, which managed to get a credulous news article out of Steve Smith and Lauren Indvik by sending them this infographic. Here’s how it begins:


That was enough for Smith, who obediently headlined his news article “Hearst Claims Nearly 2000% Increase in Mobile Traffic In A Year”.

But of course an increase from 5% to 19% is not in itself an increase of 2,000% or anywhere near that: it looks much more like an increase of 280% to me.

So I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and by my lights, if mobile traffic increased by 2,000% and still only accounts for 19% of website traffic, then total website traffic must have increased by 550%. And even if you strip out mobile, traffic to Hearst’s websites would have to have gone up 470% over the course of the past year.

Have Hearst’s websites seen their non-mobile traffic increase more than fivefold in just the past year? I’m pretty sure that if they had done, Hearst CEO David Carey would be shouting that from the rooftops, rather than talking seriously to David Carr about the disruption which is represented by the Huffington Post. Much more likely, I think, is that the 2,000% figure is simply wrong.

But the weird thing is that I can’t for the life of me work out where it might have come from. People are bad at calculating percentages, I know, but what kind of sums would you have to do in order to come to the conclusion that a rise from 5% to 19% represented an increase of 2,000%? Any ideas?


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Hearst purchased Elle in 2011. They could be rolling up the addition of Elle’s online traffic into an increased YoY number. So if that growth is through acquisition and not organic, Carey’s silence wouldn’t be be indicative of bad math.

Posted by thispaceforsale | Report as abusive

Could be that 19% figure. 19% of the total is to someone’s deranged mind the same as 19-fold, which really does almost equal 2000%

Posted by Setty | Report as abusive

Well, “almost” gives you a lot of latitude. If you plotted a graph rom 0% to 1,000,000,000%, I think you wouldn’t be able to distinguish 280% from 2,000%. Therefore, “almost” seems appropriate.


Posted by Beer_numbers | Report as abusive

Huh. They typically have an astonishing ability to make me close the tab and try to remember to avoid the site, though I will make an exception for Felix.

Posted by dWj | Report as abusive

I just got off a redeye, but I do believe your math is correct (never thought I’d say that). The total number of visits would have to grow about 5-fold to in order for 19% of X to be 2000 percent more than 5% of Y.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

bits v. pageviews? website traffic v. some background app traffic? I know my Android browser seems to do a lot more reloads when I go backwards in my history than a desktop browser would, so if you forgot to filter out duplicate requests in the first statistic, you’d get a much larger number.

Posted by AngryInCali | Report as abusive

Finally got a response from Hearst. Accurate percentage is 200%.

Posted by Lauren_Indvik | Report as abusive