Women’s Wear Daily broke the news last week that NewsCorp’s iPad “newspaper,” the Daily, will launch next month in a beta version, with a wider launch set for early 2011.
We don’t know that much more than we did over the summer when rumors about Murdoch’s latest pet project first started circulating. That is, we know about the staff hires, and we know about how much it will cost, but we don’t know yet whether it will work.
Andrew Wallenstein at paidContent stresses the importance of innovative hires: Murdoch has been stocking up on big-name editorial talent, but strong writers aren’t what will make or break this enterprise:
It’s going to require not just quality content, but minds capable of reinventing what on earth the editorial mix will be for this new medium.
And yet with all due respect to the fine journalists who are moving over to The Daily—jeez, even the name sounds oldfangled—there’s little in their backgrounds that suggests they can create something ahead of the curve.
Techcrunch’s Erick Schonfeld agrees, emphasizing that the Daily must utilize mobile technology to stay attuned to its readers’ social networks, geo-locations, and need for constant updates. But, he writes,
I will be surprised if the Daily follows any of these three tenets. The purpose the iPad-only publication seems to be to isolate readers in the iPad so they have to pay for it. But even if that is the case, it won’t succeed unless it embraces the rest of the Web.
David Carr at The New York Times gives the scheme the benefit of the doubt, writing that “there’s an argument to be made for the News Corporation’s app-centric approach.” He continues:
If you want a good look at the past and future of the News Corporation, compare the Web site of The New York Post — surely one of the ugliest, least functional in the business — with its snappy new iPad app. It’s a charming product, one that well reflects and amplifies the spice and excesses of the mother brand.
The night-and-day bifurcation is understandable given that Mr. Murdoch has never entirely trusted the Web, with its terrible advertising economics and brutal fight for revenue from consumers.
This is why the Daily is such a “game-changer.” It’s not the fact that it doesn’t have a print edition: many legacy news organizations are giving up their print versions and focusing on their web presence. Or even that you can read it on an iPad: many newspapers and magazines are also obviously investing heavily in tablet editions. What makes the Daily so unique is the fact that it’s not even going to have a website. (Carr reports that there will be an initial “mirror site” online to help market the app, but readers without a tablet device won’t be able to read The Daily content, paywall or no.)
So Murdoch et al are gambling $30 million on the idea that the same news consumers who might balk at a paywall going up on their favorite, previously-free news site will be willing to pay for a new, never-been-free tablet news package from the iTunes store. So again, will it work? Will people pay $0.99 a week for a daily tablet download, a kind of website they can hold and touch?
Perhaps success will come down to consumer psychology. If news consumers continue to associate news websites with “free stuff,” while they begin to associate tablet devices with “stuff that costs money,” the Daily begins to make sense. Here’s Carr again:
With The Daily, the News Corporation can enter the digital newsstand business in earnest with a new product that was never free on the Web and in a format for which payments are easily made. When I am on a Web browser and I bump into a pay wall, I reflexively pull back unless it is in front of something I really must have. But when I’m in the App Store on an iPad, I’m already in a commercial environment: pushing the button to spend small money on something I’d like to see or play with doesn’t seem like such a sucker’s bet.
On the other hand, even if News Corp can successfully bombard iPad users with marketing and seduce them into giving the app a try, and even if it can then convince them with strong enough editorial content to stick around and subscribe, The Daily’s success will still be limited by the number of people who actually own iPads or tablets.
According to The Guardian, Murdoch is looking at projections that there will be 40 million iPads in use by the end of next year:
A source said: “He envisions a world in which every family has a iPad in the home and it becomes the device from which they get their news and information. If only 5% of those 40 million subscribe to the Daily, that’s already two million customers.”
Murdoch certainly isn’t alone in his optimism about the projected explosion in tablet technology. When I interviewed the vice president of ABC News Digital in July, he gave me an emphatic “yes” when I asked him if it was naïve of people to dismiss tablet technology as hype, considering how expensive iPads are, at least at the moment. I told him that I didn’t personally know anyone who used an iPad yet. We joked about how that’s probably because I’m a journalist who hangs out with other journalists (Ha ha, very funny, we are all broke).
The thing to keep in mind about Murdoch is that, even if tablet sales are slower than he expects, he’s got the capital to keep a money-losing operation going for quite a while—as Fox News was, remember, for the first several years—while he waits for the iPad market and all his potential readers to catch up.