Felix Salmon

Infographic du jour, Hearst edition

Felix Salmon
Jun 18, 2012 13:14 UTC

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?


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

Posted by Lauren_Indvik | Report as abusive

Innumeracy watch, Mark Penn edition

Felix Salmon
Apr 23, 2009 22:18 UTC

Mark Penn wrote a very silly column on blogging for the WSJ. He should have left it at that. But no, he had to go and try and defend himself. Which is how he ends up justifying this:

It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year

With this:

As far as the $75,000, the Technorati report says that of those bloggers who had 100,000 or more unique visitors, the average income is $75,000. True, it’s not the median, but it is the average.

Now if say a high-schooler or even a first-year undergrad made this mistake, one might be able to bemoan the state of the US educational system, rather than the innumeracy of the individual in question. But if Mark Penn, who has dealt with numbers and statistics his entire professional life and been paid millions of dollars to do so, makes this mistake, then we are probably all doomed.

Even more depressing, in many ways, is the cute little distinction Penn insists on making between the median and the average, for all the world as though he understands basic statistics. Of course he doesn’t: the average income for bloggers who have more than 100,000 unique visitors is going to be skewed towards the income of bloggers with millions of unique visitors, however you slice it.

But in any case, the world has moved on: in my anecdotal experience, the hot new route for anybody who wants to make enough-to-live-on money from their blog is to do so by trying to turn it into a book, rather than by selling advertising on the blog itself. It’s taken a while, but everybody from Christian Lander to Barry Ritholtz is bookifying, these days, with no little success; I think that the amount of time between Postcards from Yo Momma launching and it getting a book deal can probably be measured in nanoseconds.

The blog-to-book trend may or may not last, of course, but Mark Penn will always be innumerate. Maybe that’s the real reason why Hillary lost.


Given the constant displays of breathtaking ignorance displayed by Mr Salmon since he began his attempt to take Reuters downmarket and trash a once-respected brand, this is a severe and disgraceful case of the pot calling the kettle black.

How long before Reuters realise the damage that Mr Salmon’s disgraceful attitude towards work is doing to their brand?

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive