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The digital newspaper that didn’t: The Daily shuts down

The Daily iPad Newspaper

On February 2 2011, the first iPad-only newspaper was launched. The Daily was hailed as a potentially industry-saving blend of traditional journalism and contemporary technology, incorporating multimedia content with hard-hitting articles. It was rumored for a while, delayed several times, and finally launched with Apple’s blessing at a large event held in New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Published once a day, updates could be pushed through so the content remained up to date. It had fancy graphics, videos, audio, and interactive elements, plus a certain degree of social interaction. If it was launched today, it would be given that “disruptive” tag so many commentators adore.

Except it’s not launching today, it’s being closed, as News Corp. has announced it will cease publication of The Daily on December 15. Rupert Murdoch said in a statement “From its launch, The Daily was a bold experiment in digital publishing and an amazing vehicle for innovation. Unfortunately, our experience was that we could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long-term.”

The closure of The Daily probably won’t come as a complete shock, as a report published recently by the New York Observer claimed Murdoch was seriously contemplating the iPad newspaper’s future, and its fate would be decided once the U.S. elections had been completed. A sad end then, to a publication that a former reporter called “a really cool, hip product,” a viewpoint shared by him, Rupert Murdoch, but few others.

Exciting plans

The Daily had far from humble beginnings. Murdoch was supposedly inspired to create the digital newspaper after a survey revealed readers were spending more time using their iPad than browsing the Internet. A Guardian article from 2010 says he saw a prediction there would be 40 million iPads in use by the end of 2011, spurring him on to capture the attention of this new, exciting market with a newspaper for the digital age. The sales figure turned out to be on the conservative side, with sources suggesting Apple had sold more than 55 million iPad tablets by the end of 2011.

The Daily: iPad AppIn his editorial, Murdoch said of The Daily, “New times demand new journalism, so we built The Daily completely from scratch on the most innovative device to come about in my time, the iPad. The magic of great newspapers, and great blogs, lies in their serendipity and surprise, and the touch of a good editor. We’re going to bring that magic to The Daily, to inform people, to make them think, to help them engage in the great issues of the day.”

According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, he and Rupert Murdoch were friends, and the pair worked together to come up with the design. Murdoch’s plan was to make The Daily a pithier version of the USA Today, and in a well-worn anecdote, told an executive inquiring about who it would be aimed at, simply said “everybody.”

Early promise

It’s widely accepted that The Daily cost $30 million to develop and $500,000 per week to operate. At launch, The Daily was offered with a free trial, which was extended due to problems with getting Apple’s new iOS subscription model up and running, and technical problems with the app. In May 2011 News Corp’s President, Chase Carey, said The Daily had already lost $10 million thanks to a delay in it becoming a pay app.

The Daily was priced at $1 per week, or $40 for a year. Carey also revealed it had amassed 800,000 downloads between February and May 2011. In October 2011, The Daily’s publisher told AdAge it had about 80,000 subscribers, and the conversion from readers enjoying the two-week trial to eventually paying for the newspaper was 15 percent.

This early promise didn’t pan out though. Fast forward to the beginning of 2012 and The New York Times claims The Daily had 100,000 subscribers and, at the time, was on target to only break even after five years. This was a long way off from the 500,000 subscribers Murdoch said it would take to make The Daily a viable business.

The Daily diversifies as News Corp splits

news-of-the-world-rupert-murdoch

Initially restricted to iPads in the USA, The Daily was launched in the UK in September 2011, but this was a token effort as the content was still focused on the U.S.; much of it had no bearing on reader’s lives. In January 2012, The Daily branched out onto the Android platform, and a deal was struck with Verizon which saw the newspaper pre-installed on all Galaxy Tab 7.7 tablets sold through the network. It has subsequently been released on the iPhone and the Amazon Kindle Fire.

Then came the layoffs. In July 2012, 50 members of staff, mostly from the sports and editorial team, left the company. At the same time, News Corp. was going through changes of its own. It was announced that the company would split in two, with its publishing arm becoming a separate entity to its film and media business. At this point The Daily was supposedly “put on watch,” and its situation was set to be “reassessed after the November 6 election.” The future of Murdoch’s pet project looked murky, as the split would inevitably bring with it potentially calamitous, for The Daily at least, accounting changes.

Its Demise

Money was of course, at the center of The Daily’s death. At the beginning of 2012, a study of the top 100 grossing publications for the iPad found The Daily was pulling in around $70,000 per day, which placed it at the very top of the tree. If we look at Distimo’s charts today we find The Daily has slipped down to third place in the U.S. top grossing app list and number 32 in the popularity chart. To prove how utterly irrelevant The Daily is in the UK, it sits at position 267.

It wasn’t only money that sealed The Daily’s fate, but social media, as well. Back when The Daily was released, the iPad was still relatively new on the digital publishing scene. Apps such as Flipboard and Pulse News Reader were still in their infancy, and fellow newspapers and magazines were trying to find ways to avoid paying Apple’s commission by creating HTML5 apps outside of the App Store. Today they’re almost all a part of the Store, having realized they were fighting a losing battle, and the social news scene has exploded. Many people use Twitter or Facebook to get the latest news. Google, Yahoo, and even pretentious teenagers produce free news aggregation apps. Even the mighty Huffington Post has made its iPad app free because nobody was paying to read it. Most of the successful apps work because they link to news on the Web. The Daily had next to no Web element.

The Daily was an experiment, a news factory in digital form. From the very beginning, it was at risk of being replaced by a robotic workforce. Its way of working – from its single collection of daily stories to its ignorance regarding the importance of deep linking on the Web – and its print newspaper sensibility appeared quaint once everyone else began using social media or free, well-designed news aggregation apps to keep up to date. By not adapting to current news consumption trends, and not allowing other online news sources, blogs, and websites to link to its content, it was an online dinosaur, despite its flashy modern exterior. News Corp’s split may have seen the funding dry up, but The Daily did a good job of preparing its retirement home long before that.