The Daily is a Convincing App. But is it a Periodical?

I like The Daily rather more than I was expecting. I also think that it has a commercial chance; it is a gamble, but it is potentially a very significant money-spinner. A lot will depend on the execution. Murdoch is prepared to take a big punt on the newspaper’s success, and like a good gambler he can do this because he is playing with a limited stake ($30 million in startup costs and $500k a week in running costs). He is not playing for break-even but for a significant win, which happens when he has 1 million or 2 million subscribers. That will take 18 months or two years to pan out, so at most $100 million is at risk. For News Corporation with its huge investment in print newspapers this is peanuts. The upside is that The Daily gets 2 million subscribers from which the subscription income is $80 million ($40 annual sub x 2 million subscribers), Apple’s commission and sales tax may bring this net take down to $50 million but the running costs are $25 million. Also there is some advertising revenue which should help.

Murdoch’s off the cuff comments at the launch were fascinating and engaged, and I heard them the same way as Peter Kirwan, blogging at the UK Wire, who also fancies the commercial prospects of the new title:

If this makes The Daily sound like a bolt-on addition to the media ecosystem, Murdoch is also dreaming of something much bigger. Away from his script, during an interview on Fox Business News yesterday, his words suggested a bid to promote cannibalisation of print audiences.

“I really believe that everybody in America who can afford one is going to buy a tablet,” said Murdoch. Ultimately, he added, he would like The Daily to overtake the 26m audience attracted by American Idol on News Corporation’s Fox network.

News Corporation executives may smile at the old man’s hyperbole. But the intent is clear. What’s more, Murdoch claims that he isn’t phased by the prospect of cannibalising print audiences. “Oh, there may be some expensive changeover,” he said yesterday. “Net-net I think we will get.” Peter Kirwan: What’s New about The Daily?

Murdoch is aiming a newspaper proposition at a market which can probably commit to the prices he is putting on it (99c a week or $40 a year). Because he has a clean slate Murdoch has been able to take a realistic view of what an annual iPad newspaper should cost. Net-net, I think he will get.

The Daily has a mid-market feel, a bit like USA Today (2010 circulation 1.8 million, and if I were in Gannett’s boots I would move very fast to cut Mr Murdoch off at the pass with a snazzier app in the same class) and it will have a mid-market appeal. It is not very serious, it is gossipy, and the sports coverage impressed me; the illustrations are good and some of the diagrams and 360° photographs are excellent. There is much that one could question or criticize (see some very insightful analysis of the typography and design by Stephen Coles), the social interactivity is ham-fisted at launch, but I will be watching the progress of The Daily with interest.

Murdoch in answer to questions, left open the possibility that The Daily will in due course migrate to other tablet platforms, but it is for this year and next aimed fair and square at the iPad. Nevertheless it is in many respects designed and conceived in a rather conservative magazine fashion: as if it were a newspaper designed for a small format with lots of colour and a fair amount of interaction, snippets of video and short, punchy stories. Which is what it is, mostly produced with traditional print tools. The maganewspaper is, we may suppose, produced with InDesign and could almost be laid out as though it were a print object — almost, but not quite, since as with other apps generated from inDesign the imposition would not work. The framework and the metaphor is still largely a print metaphor, but one re-scaled for the iPad’s dimensions and interface. Like any app it can interact with the web and it condescends to save pages and bookmarks and links in suitably undistinguished web pages, but it is most definitely an app and a tolerably enjoyable one to navigate and browse.

So The Daily is a newspaper and an app, but is it a periodical? I only raise the question, because there is no way, at present, to move back to a previous issue (except through the rather drab web pages which are used for reference, bookmarking etc). The Daily is a daily event and not a newspaper of record which would have an archive of issues that can be opened and re-opened to review and re-read earlier content, so that one could again look at the 360° photograph of Tahrir square that they carried on February 4th (one can see the video carried on that day here). It may be said that a proper archive could be ‘retro-fitted’ once they get going; but I wonder whether this will happen or whether we will move to the idea of a digital newspaper being a more ephemeral publication (like a news web site) with no full archive? Shall we borrow a word from the French and call such not-for-the-record newspapers ‘quotidians’ rather than ‘periodicals’?

I think that digital magazines certainly will retain their archives, and the apps which map them will have to figure out how the archive is presented and integrated alongside the current number. There is strength in that model and anchoring readers in the quality of your back issues has some commercial advantages.

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