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Dissecting The Daily's Demise

Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 6:15 PM

What went wrong with News Corp.'s daily iPad newspaper?

By Meredith L. Dias

Nearly two years ago, media mogul Rupert Murdoch declared his iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, to be the "new journalism." In our February 2011 issue, we discussed what how this tablet newspaper might change the editorial game, but not without a certain measure of caution. In his February 2011 piece, Editors Only editor William Dunkerley suggested the following: "There's some reason to believe that the architects of The Daily may have been more bedazzled by the new technologies than respondent to actual reader needs and interests."

He may have been right. Earlier this month, Murdoch announced that The Daily would cease publication after less than two years. The move comes as part of a larger restructuring of News Corp's various properties. Only a handful of staffers will transfer to other Murdoch publications.

What Went Wrong?

When The Daily first hit the digital presses, magazine publishers everywhere wondered if this tablet-only publication would define the industry's future. It seemed promising, but perhaps we were all a little blinded by the newspaper's multimedia bells and whistles (e.g., 360-degree photos and HD videos). They were dazzling features, no doubt, but they were no substitute for compelling journalism.

In a statement, Murdoch indicated that the newspaper had never established a large enough audience. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why not, but pundits have stated that The Daily simply didn't stand up to its iPad competitors. Abbey Klaasen of AdAge.com offered her commentary in a December 10 article:

"In the equation of content quality multiplied by user experience, it just didn't make the grade. Technology comes and goes, but the bar for media companies is to provide valuable content that people want and can't necessarily get everywhere -- and delivering it to them in a package they want to receive. The Daily wasn't a winning-enough proposition when it came to content, and it wasn't differentiated enough when it came to its design and user experience."

Other analysts are blaming the very business model that powered The Daily. Because the newspaper's content was behind a paywall, it was difficult to generate the kind of viral frenzy that websites with free content can.

Audience Issues

Earlier this month, Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast published an article gleaned from discussions with six of the displaced The Daily staffers. One former editor mentioned that most of its readers were "'based in the middle of America.'" Another former employee admitted that the paper "'wasn't a must-read.'" Even Murdoch himself mentioned in his statement that The Daily "could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince [them] the business model was sustainable in the long-term."

So perhaps The Daily should have invested more in market analysis and high-quality journalism and less in its digital extras. Perhaps, as Klaasen suggests in her aforementioned article, the magazine failed to connect with readers because the overall package didn't resonate with a large enough audience.

What Staffers Are Saying

The anonymous sources behind Moynihan's article cite the publication's "amorphous editorial identity" among its failures. They also note that most magazines are given several years to become profitable; however, the recent News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK changed the budgetary game for News Corp. Still, the closure came as a surprise to them.

It would seem, then, that there was already some confusion behind the scenes regarding The Daily's form and function. Then, external forces conspired to slash the newspaper's budget to unsustainable levels. It was the perfect storm for a publication already struggling to find its footing in a highly competitive news app market.

Takeaway Points

The Daily is a thing of the past, but it may not have been all in vain. Murdoch has indicated that he will apply some of what he's learned from his iPad endeavors to other publications. What can we take away from The Daily's demise?

For one, we should use digital extras sparingly. Things like HD video and panoramic photography can quickly sap tight budgets, and that money might be better spent on readership surveys and high-quality journalism. A glitzy digital news app can only be useful if it's attracting scores of readers and is available in a format that can easily go "viral."

We also should do careful analysis before throwing all of our resources into a single platform. True, iPads and tablets have taken off considerably in the last few years. But readers are still accessing editorial content in print and on PCs, Macs, netbooks, e-readers, tablets, and smartphones. With such a wide array of platforms, we can ensure that our content reaches the widest possible audience by making it available in a variety of formats.

Meredith L. Dias is senior editor of Editors Only.

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