For months, rumors have swirled that News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch has been secretly working with Steve Jobs and Apple to create The Daily, a digital newspaper designed exclusively for tablets. There will be no print or Web edition of the The Daily—it will only be published on the iPad and other similar devices, with weekly subscriptions costing just 99 cents. According to several sources, the paper, which is to combine "a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence," will be unveiled by the month’s end.
Let's think about this: In the woe-laden world of newspaper publishing, one solution proposed by an aging dinosaur of the industry is to embrace the hot tech of an innovation-centric gadget guru? And the actual plan to revolutionize the industry is to take the business model of a traditional printed newspaper, with no weblinks and essentially "dead" words on the page, and replace the paper with pixels? Because that's what a walled-off, iPad-only newspaper app would mean.
The Reason The Daily Could Work
Murdoch is still an astonishingly powerful voice in the newspaper business, despite the chaos that reigns all around him. If he chooses to do something big, then it'll have some sort of big impact.
There’s no question Murdoch considers Jobs’ essentially an ally, and Jobs is a mighty figure in his own right. Apart from his admiration for the Apple chief (he has called Jobs the best CEO in America), Murdoch knows the iPad is crucial for his print business’ future—especially the Wall Street Journal's—and his past dealings with Apple indicate he’s keenly aware of this fact. As the New York Times' David Carr speculates:
The Los Angeles Times reported last summer that Murdoch was agreeing to let Apple sell Fox TV shows on iTunes for 99 cents each—over the objections of some News Corp. executives—perhaps in return for most-favored-nation status for its newspaper applications on the iPad.
Put these two guys' thoughts together, and get them both to contribute to something unique and whatever they produce is going to be influential. Combined with clever iAds for income, a massive installed base of iPad users inside the U.S. (and around the world) and the excitement and show-business pizazz of a new newspaper launch—yes, even in this terrible climate of dying papers!—the Daily could seize some serious mindshare—even without linkshare—and attract many subscribers.
Why The Daily is Doomed
There are so many points to make here, let's put them in a list:
- Murdoch's publications are not strangers to the idea of using sex to sell—witness the famous daily Page Three girls in his most popular British newspaper, the Sun. Jobs wouldn't tolerate boobies in newspapers on his supposedly squeaky-clean (from a moral sense) iPad App Store. Any kind of sensationalist journalism, from such a highly spot-lit app, may also be a big no-no.
- Editorial control will be messy. If Jobs is, as some rumors say, personally involved, will he get all dictatorial on The Daily's editor's ass? Will his yay or nay lead to censored content? Will readers tolerate even the merest suggestion of this behavior?
- A paid model for a walled-off newspaper, essentially a digitally-enhanced version of a printed paper, is a bad idea because on the Net the competition is a mere click away. It's the same on the iPad: Why tap on an app that costs you $0.99 per week, when it's just as easy to click on Safari and browse to an online paper that may offer higher-quality journalism, and stories that update on a minute-by-minute basis?
- A paid "dead-pixel" newspaper runs counter to every other Net experience users have—they're used to free digital content, albeit loaded with web ads. The London Times's online paywall experiment resulted in such a drastic hemorrhage of site visitors the publication had to return to free access for a while, and no one's sure now how badly it's doing.
- Consumers are also used to the dynamic hyperlinked world of online reading—it definitely enhances the reading experience, and turns plain text into a much more interactive way of learning new information. Blogging has similarly turned the publication of news into a much swifter, conversation-like process. It's hard to see how The Daily will counteract this. Even if The Daily is heavy on moving media, delineating it from "static" printed papers, news-based videos and interactive infographics can also be found on blogs for free.
- If Apple wanted to really inject some dynamism into the digital newspaper and magazine powers of the iPad, it would've released in-app subscription models long ago.
- The Daily sounds like a very U.S.-centric affair, whereas the iPad (and iPhone) are a decidedly international phenomenon. Millions of users overseas likely wouldn't care about The Daily's content, instantly limiting its market, and there wouldn't seem to be enough potential U.S. subscribers to even pay the team that the rumors say has been assembled.
- Advertisers like displaying their content on multiple platforms. Will they pay more to have their message displayed inside The Daily?
Does the very notion of The Daily irk you? Or are we wrong, and it seems like the quintessential example of the newspaper of the future? Let us know in the (interactive, user-embracing) comments.
Additional writing and reporting by Austin Carr.
To keep up with this news, and more like it, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.