It was supposed to herald the start of a digital publishing revolution. Instead Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, the world’s first digital newspaper designed exclusively for the iPad, is rumoured to be facing closure.
In an article for the New York Observer on the effects of News Corp’s recent cuts, Kat Stoeffel reports on rumours that the digital publication has been put “on watch” and will discover its fate after the US presidential elections on November 6th.
Although as yet unconfirmed, if proven to be true the news is unlikely to come as much of a surprise to those who have been closely following the digital title’s fortunes. The Daily launched on a wave of optimism at the beginning of February last year, introduced by Murdoch himself as the company’s answer to the changing world of journalism: “New times demand new journalism… and a new service edited and designed specifically for new devices. Our challenge is to take the best of traditional journalism…and combine it with the best of contemporary technology.”
Since then however, The Daily has failed to make much of an impression. Critics praised the digital paper’s stunning layout, and were impressed that users were able to interact with articles by posting text and voice comment, but very little of what The Daily offers could not be found elsewhere, often for free, and it seemed unlikely that swathes of consumers would pay to access it, even for the modest sum of 99 cents a week or $39.99 a year. Furthermore, though updated when necessary, The Daily was a much slower distributor of up-to-date news than other sources, like Twitter.
That said, the main problem appears not to have been the product, but the platform. The Daily’s creators attempted to differentiate the publication from its competitors by only allowing access to the product through the iPad, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the digital market. Within the first 8 months of its launch, the digital newspaper had attracted around 800,000 paying subscribers – a sixth of the total amount it needed to recuperate the $30 million invested in the venture. Meanwhile the average running costs per week for Rupert Murdoch’s digital experiment stand at around $500,000.
When questioned about the modest subscription levels, News Corp executives would stress that the project was in its infancy, and insist that it be given time to grow and evolve. In an interview with AdWeek, News Corp’s COO Chase Carey insisted that the company was still experimenting with the project, and was keen to learn from customer feedback. That relaxed attitude appears to have changed following the announcement that News Corp is to split its entertainment and publishing arms into two separate companies. It was widely reported in the days following confirmation of the separation that Mr Murdoch would not tolerate losses from his print titles, and now it seems the newspaper man’s intolerance of failure has gone digital. From News Corp’s point of view it perhaps makes sense to terminate The Daily before the split occurs, so that the $100,000,000 it is said to have lost so far can be absorbed by the profits made from the lucrative Fox TV and film businesses.
Rupert Murdoch’s foray into pure digital publication may have failed this time, but no doubt he and others will draw lessons from the experience. Taking risks with newspaper forms and distribution is a must if there is to be any chance of traditional media adapting and surviving in the modern age. If The Daily is to come to an end, it will at least be remembered as a step in the right direction for news publishers.