HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Apple Watch will expose how little publishers know about their readers
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Dec. 3, 2012, 11:56 a.m.
Business Models

Some lessons from the demise of The Daily: Was it the platform, the content, the structure, or the business model?

The built-for-iPad “newspaper” is closing on December 15. Here are the ideas some are taking away from News Corp.’s high-profile venture into a platform-specific news organization.

It’s official: The Daily is closing.

Launched to high expectations in February 2011, the iPad-only daily “newspaper” was the target of much anticipation and sniping from the start. As early as April 2011, we were charting what seemed like a leveling-off of interest, and its choices — to charge for content in an era of free, to be platform-specific in an era for the platform agnostic, to ape a print newspaper’s publication schedule when little could seem less timely — made it a flashpoint.

I asked our 105,462 followers on Twitter for their thoughts on the cause of death. The lessons they tossed out fit mostly into four overlapping diagnoses:

1. It’s the platform

The most common claim was that The Daily’s device-bound nature limited its potential. (The Daily started out as iPad-only, although it eventually grew to include iPhones, Android tablets, and the Kindle Fire.) Locking into a single platform and not having a web front door limiting sharing and social promotion, this argument goes. (The Daily’s stories do exist on the web; they’re just hard to discover without a Daily subscriber sharing them out first.)

2. It’s the content

Or maybe it was the content. The Daily’s stories were criticized as an odd middlebrow mix, aiming a tabloidish sensibility at an early-adopter audience. There were some very solid scoops and features along the way, but it didn’t feel essential to most.

3. It’s the structure

Another school of thought: The Daily was too big, too corporate, too locked into a daily-newspaper mindset.

(That’s from Taryn Wood-Norris, who was/is (?) senior designer at The Daily.)

4. It’s the business model

Then again, maybe the problem was just about making money: charging in an environment where most content is free and mobile advertising is still immature.

My take

I think each of these arguments has some truth. But I think in the end, the demise of The Daily was most about #3: the structure.

Here’s the thing: The Daily had over 100,000 paying subscribers. That ain’t nothing! With most subscribers paying $39.99 a year (others paid 99 cents a week), minus Apple’s cut, that’s around $3 million in annual revenue — and that’s before you add in advertising revenue. At various points, it was the highest-grossing app in the App Store in 13 different countries. In the United States, it’s been in the top 5 of news apps by gross since launch and, until this summer, consistently in the top 20 of all apps — even including Angry Birds and the rest.

You can absolutely build a real online news organization on that kind of revenue. You just can’t build one that has 200 staffers. Or 150 staffers. Or 100 staffers.

It certainly didn’t help that the app itself was grindingly slow for too long (although it did get faster over time). And it didn’t help that the content was fungible and a little mushy.

But to see the glass as half full: The fact that an outlet with its problems could still generate 100,000 paying subscribers is a sign that an outlet with a sounder strategy, a more defined ambit, and a more realistic sense of scale could get even more. The number of people with tablets will keep growing; people’s comfort with paying for digital content will continue to increase; companies will get smarter about production efficiencies.

And on a day when News Corp. gets a step closer to breaking up, let me take a moment to praise Rupert Murdoch for giving The Daily a try.

News organizations have been talking about the need to create new products for a while, from the days of Newspaper Next and before. But it’s mostly been talk; faced with their own individual fiscal cliffs, news executives have spent the past half-decade cutting and cutting and cutting, which hasn’t left many resources to use on building new things. News Corp. — in large part because it’s part of a big corporation that can take “Avatar” money and move it around — made a pretty big bet on an idea.

It didn’t work out. But at least they tried.

POSTED     Dec. 3, 2012, 11:56 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Business Models
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Apple Watch will expose how little publishers know about their readers
Apple’s new wearable may or may not be a big hit. But either way, it’s a harbinger of a new class of truly personal devices whose users will demand customized experiences. News companies aren’t ready to provide them.
Newsonomics: The Vox/Recode deal is a sign of more consolidation to come
With venture funders itching for an exit, a few corporate giants — Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, the new Charter — could end up owning many of the entrepreneurial news brands that have captured attention in recent years. Big is eating small.
News as a design challenge: New ideas for news’ future from MIT
Students and Nieman Fellows spent a semester building solutions for audience engagement, better tools to explore data, and new ideas for local media startups.
What to read next
670
tweets
What happened when a college newspaper abandoned its website for Medium and Twitter
At Mt. San Antonio College, they’ve traded in print for distributed publishing, focusing on realtime reporting and distribution: “We’re speaking the language of our generation.”
576The Upshot uses geolocation to push readers deeper into data
The New York Times story changes its text depending on where you’re reading it: “It’s a fine line between a smarter default and being creepy.”
424Knight Foundation invests $1 million in creator-driven podcast collective Radiotopia
The money will help PRX’s collective of public media-minded shows develop sustainable business models and expand with new shows and producers.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Bloomberg
National Review
Creative Commons
Twitter
Associated Press
The Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News
CNN
The Washington Post
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
MSNBC
Semana
Ars Technica