Which FiercePharma news attracts the most readers online?

As anyone in pharma knows, data can be a wonderful thing. Crunching data can also be addictive, like kettle corn or tortilla chips. We here at FierceMarkets can spend hours consuming statistics about our readers and web traffic.

We like to brag about some of those stats; for instance, FiercePharma readers visited our website 1.8 million times so far this year, up from 1.58 million last year. Almost 95,000 people now subscribe to the daily FiercePharma newsletter. And while much of our readership is concentrated in North America, our international reach has grown quite a bit, to the point where thousands of readers in the U.K., India and Europe visit us every week.

We're most fascinated, of course, by which of our stories attract the most attention from readers. We can't track the numbers indicating who consumes individual stories in our daily newsletter. But we can take account of web traffic. And over the past 12 months, one story attracted far, far more readers than any other news we've covered. It's been read 79,449 times since it was published Jan. 9.

"Novartis pulls OTC meds made at troubled plant," was the headline. It was one of our first stories about the Swiss drugmaker's ($NVS) manufacturing site in Lincoln, NE. Some of the company's most popular consumer brands are made there, including Theraflu, Triaminic, Gas-X and Maalox--not to mention the cult favorite, Excedrin Migraine. Consumers want those brands back on store shelves. And, apparently, when they can't find their favorite Novartis consumer product, they turn to Google to find out why. Google sends them to us.

In the months since that recall, the Novartis manufacturing story has mushroomed. Other plants have joined the Lincoln facility on the violations list, including three that turn out generic drugs for the company's Sandoz unit. The Lincoln plant has remained the biggest challenge, however; while Novartis has managed to get a few products back onto the market, fixing the plant's problems has taken much longer than expected. So long, in fact, that CEO Joe Jimenez stopped making predictions about when it would be back up to full speed. The lack of those products has made a big dent in the consumer healthcare unit's sales; they dropped 24% for the second quarter and 22% during Q3.

Our second most popular story on the web? Another piece of Novartis news. The Swiss drugmaker stopped a clinical trial of its Tekturna blood pressure drug last December on safety concerns. The company was testing Tekturna, also sold under the Rasilez brand, in diabetes patients with kidney problems. The hope was that Tekturna would protect the kidneys and heart from damage. But researchers flagged an increase in unwanted side effects--including non-fatal strokes and kidney complications--in the Tekturna arm of the trial. In February, Novartis added warnings to the drug's European label. And in April, the FDA issued a warning against using the drug along with ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, both commonly used cardiovascular drugs, in patients with diabetes or kidney problems.

Novartis also made third place, with another story about the Lincoln plant. With manufacturing idled there, the heartburn drug Maalox was running scarce in Canada. By the end of May, drugstores were posting "out of stock" signs. The shortage wasn't a complete surprise; Novartis' Canadian unit had warned in March that some OTC drugs produced in Lincoln could make the shortage list. Though Novartis has reintroduced Excedrin Migraine, it hasn't said when Maalox will return.

Gilead Sciences ($GILD) scored a big win with the approval of its "Quad" HIV treatment, officially dubbed Stribild. But hard on the heels of that FDA nod in August, critics pounced on the new drug's $28,500 price tag. Readers vaulted that story into our fourth place for web traffic. AIDS activists are perennial critics of Gilead's pricing policies, but this time, market analysts joined in, too. They figured a lower price would help Stribild compete with the plethora of new HIV-fighting generics. And Democratic members of Congress had already weighed in with their own protest against Stribild's pricing.

Stories about pharma sales and marketing always do well with FiercePharma readers. So, it stands to reason that a look at potential changes in drug promotion scored a top-5 slot. According to a Booz & Co. survey, most pharma marketing executives consider the current sales model to be broken. And they were pretty pessimistic about the challenges they face: more pricing pressures, less access to doctors, and increasing demands for evidence of cost-effectiveness, among others. One response to these obstacles? Using pricing strategies--including innovative pricing arrangements--to drive growth.

That wraps up our ranking of top web stories. Below, you'll find the FiercePharma special reports that attracted the most readership. If you're a regular reader, you'll have noticed that we published more industry analyses and rankings this year. With help from our growing staff of hard-working writers and editors, we're planning even more for 2013, so stay tuned. -- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)