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Some news organizations are optimistic about the economics of mobile devices. In March 2011, Dow Jones announced that it had 200,000 paying subscribers who access to The Wall Street Journal via some sort of mobile device. The company did not say how much additional revenue this brought in, so many of these readers could be like Michael Harwayne—digital subscribers who signed up for mobile access. (The Wall Street Journal’s total reported average daily paid circulation is about 2 million copies—1.6 million copies in print and 430,000 electronic copies.)
Time Inc. announced plans in February 2011 to give Time, Fortune, People, and Sports Illustrated subscribers the ability to access those magazines’ content on multiple platforms. Sports Illustrated has been particularly aggressive in digital expansion; to introduce its digital package as widely as possible, it has given access to all 3.15 million of its current print subscribers. For new customers, it is promoting an “All Access” subscription plan, which includes the print magazine, plus access via tablet, web, and smartphone; in March 2011, the price for All Access (including a bonus windbreaker) was $48 per year. A digital-only package with no magazine and no jacket costs the same. That pricing scheme helps protect the print edition and provides the biggest possible digital audience.
Some publishers are willing to invest a lot to gamble on an unknown future and avoid sitting on the sidelines.
In February 2011, News Corp. launched The Daily, a tablet-only newspaper. First offered on just the iPad, though there are plans to extend it to more tablets, The Daily announced a start-up budget of $30 million, which let it hire enough journalists, designers, and technicians to create 100 pages of content per day. Integrated into The Daily are features that seem to shine on the iPad platform, such as social-media links, audio, and video. Greg Clayman, publisher of The Daily, said hundreds of thousands of users have downloaded the app, but he’s not ready to reveal how many use it on a regular basis.
George Rodrigue, managing editor of The Dallas Morning News, says the iPad “may be the thing that helps people read enterprise journalism. We used to say you have to be platform agnostic. I don’t think that’s right anymore. You have to be platform specific.” But the transition isn’t cheap. “We have to build a staff for the iPad—two people plus an assignment editor,” he says. “We’re going to handcraft little stories summarizing every story—fifty-five words max. Every reporter will write the summary themselves. Every section front will be a summary of the news page.” At The Miami Herald, Raul Lopez, the interactive general manager, estimates the paper’s total digital page views to be 30 million per month; about 2 million are mobile, and half of those are via the iPhone.
Meanwhile, video has become an essential element of the digital experience. According to comScore, about 89 million people in the U.S. watched at least one online video, or video advertisement, daily by the end of 2010.
For journalism sites, broadband access has made video distribution more feasible. But persuading users to watch news video isn’t easy. Online video journalism is becoming a world of haves and have-nots. Among the haves, CNN.com reigns supreme.
“In any given month, well over half our unique visitors watch video,” says K.C. Estenson, senior vice president and general manager of CNN.com. “The percentage has gone up every year.” When CNN.com redesigned its site in 2009, the network “anchored it on video,” Estenson says. It isn’t unusual for the website to have fifteen or more video links on its home page, including at least three or four in high-profile featured positions.