The media world has been impatiently waiting for Apple’s iPad daily newspaper, built as a collaboration between Steve Jobs’ company and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for months. It was first teased for a January launch–which Steve Jobs was slated to attend–then delayed. Today, it’s live.
The Daily will cost $0.99 per week, or at a small discount for $40 per year, and is promising to include over 100 pages of original news in each issue. The newspaper is billed automatically, to customers iTunes accounts, on a weekly or annual basis.
At its launch News Corp.’s owner Rupert Murdoch was careful to note Steve Jobs and Apple’s role in its development, saying “I’d like to thank the amazing steve jobs the man who has singlehandeldly changed the world of media. We’re honored Apple has put its support behind this venture, and Steve has been a champion of The Daily from day one.” Then Murdoch noted that the digital revolution really has caught the traditional newspaper napping–but never more so than with the tablet revolution: “New times demand new journalism,” he observed, adding “the iPad demands that we completely re-imagine our craft.” You can bet that News Corp. won’t run away from paper editions and websites yet though–despite all that re-imagining.
In terms of features, the newspaper features traditional text-based stories, video and interactive content–and much was made of the 360-degree photos that’ll let photojournalism go far beyond what’s possible in a printed context.
Embracing the social media phenomenon, you’ll be able to share stories on Twitter, Facebook and via email, and the mechanism seems very Apple-esque–you simply click to clip, save and press send to share the content you’ve chosen. This is a boon for some, who’d wondered if News Corp. would pull its habitual “linking is the enemy of news” stunt–and represents something of a reversal in attitude. Stories within The Daily will also link out to the Web, so it’s not a completely closed ecosystem. However, the openness of the app is limited–though the presenters were wary about answering questions about “discoverability” it seems like you’ll be able to share content with other readers of the Daily, and non-readers too–but the non-readers won’t get any of the app’s interactivity and there’s nowhere on the Web they can link to it. This is almost in line with the comment that “hundreds of billions of people sharing content on the web, and we want to be a part of it.”
In terms of real-time “serious” journalism, the paper is hitting the ground running–and has a reporter, Josh Hearst, in place in Egypt to report on ongoing events there. The presenters at the launch event were careful to note the Daily isn’t a “static” publication, but that new pages can be “dropped in anytime”–which means it takes a lot of inspiration from the Web, but retains some of the formats usually associated with print newspapers.
Murdoch noted “our ambitions are very big, but our costs are very low,” in reference to how The Daily’s financial model will work (a key fact that’ll be scrutinized by media watchers and competitors), adding: “but if you talk about success financially, it’s really a very low figure.” The app reportedly cost $30 million to develop, “all of which as been written off.” Meanwhile running costs are “less than half a million a week […] all without advertisers.” That’s particularly interesting, as it gives us a direct flavor of how many subscribers the app needs to break even–500,000 returning every week–before it can report a profit.
The app will, Murdoch noted, be an Apple-only affair for “this year and next.” But the newspaper will be refined to work on other platforms as the “major” ones “get established.”
The Daily has been in and out of the headlines for months, most recently because it seemed Apple was behind the delay in launch. Accepting subscription-style payments, and then pushing out the new content to the app on a daily basis, was trickier than at first thought. This is absolutely crucial tech, as it really enables consumers to think of the Daily‘s app as a single entity that has updating content–like a digital daily newspaper, in fact. It’s a subtle change from having to re-load an app, as some iPad magazines require, but it may help keep users subscribing as it takes less effort–and the psychological cues that make The Daily seem like a real paper newspaper may be important, especially to an industry giant like News Corp. that would prefer to keep the status quo.
Why’s The Daily important, though? For starters, that subscriptions framework will enable a bunch of other newspapers and magazines to really ramp-up their efforts in iPad publishing. There’s been much grumbling in the publishing world about this issue for ages, which may strike some as a little ironic: The iPad is often touted as a potential savior of news and paper publishing (enabling old publications to transform themselves for the interactive, social-media-driven 21st Century while still trading on their brand identities) and here they are complaining that Apple isn’t doing what they’d like. The potential success of The Daily could also be seen as a barometer for the success of other paid digital news systems.
We know it’s a serious effort to change the news business because some of the staff (identified by online detective work, and news stories over several months) include ex-employees of the New York Post, AP, The Atlantic, AOL and a number of other news organizations. The Chief Technical Officer is John McKinley, previously head technical guy at AOL and before at Merrill Lynch. In total there are around 100 staff, split roughly 90%/10% between editing-writing and support services–huge for a magazine staff, relatively small for a daily newspaper. Their wages will come out of a budget estimated to be around $30 million per year.
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