Why Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily Failed And What It Means For iPad Publishing

on December 03 2012 1:49 PM

Almost immediately following Monday morning’s announcement by News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA) that it is shutting down The Daily after less than two years, media professionals took to Twitter with posts ranging from sincere condolences to outright gloating. However, most of the tweets were permeated by one underlying estimation: It was bound to happen.

“Sounds like News Corp. has finally decided to take The Daily out behind the barn and put a bullet in it,” tweeted GigaCom’s Matthew Ingram.

Indeed, predictions of The Daily’s demise were present right from the beginning, and prognosticators who had expected a quick death were further emboldened in July when Rupert Murdoch put the publication on death watch during a conference call with stock analysts.   

Launched just over a year ago, and touted by the newspaper-loving Murdoch as a savior for print media, The Daily had managed to amass more than 100,000 subscribers and 250,000 unique readers each month during its short life. Nevertheless, the publication (available only on iPads, smartphones and Android tablets, with select stories highlighted on The Daily's website) had been bleeding estimated losses of $30 million a year.

The losses, as many predicted, were too much, and this morning, Murdoch announced that The Daily will cease publication on Dec. 15.

“Unfortunately, our experience was that we could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long term,” Murdoch said in a statement. “Therefore we will take the very best of what we have learned at The Daily and apply it to all our properties.”

Almost as predictable as The Daily’s demise is the fact that virtually every media pundit in the country has an opinion as to why it failed. Slate’s Will Oremus cited the inherent growth limitations of restricting a product to a single device -- particularly in an age when sharing news is just as important as breaking it. “The Daily missed the whole point of digital publication, which is that you can reach a vast, worldwide audience across a wide array of platforms without having to design entirely separate products for each one,” Oremus wrote.

Trevor Butterworth, a former tech writer for the Daily, blamed the publication’s death on its dreaded paywall, a perpetually polarizing topic in journalism. “You can’t create an entirely new brand and take it behind a paywall after four weeks, while limiting its footprint on the Internet, and then expect people to buy it,” he wrote in a post on Facebook, which was later reposted by the media blogger Jim Romenesko.

Over at Neiman Lab, Joshua Benton collected dozens of opinions on the topic via Twitter, breaking them up into various categories, each citing a different possible reason why The Daily failed. Was it the platform, the business model or News Corp.’s unwieldy corporate structure? Or perhaps it was the content, which many called bland and shallow. Chances are, it was a combination of each of these things.

In April 2010, when Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad to the world, many newspaper and magazine publishers saw new hope in an industry that sorely needed it. For readers, the device promised to recreate the experience of reading print publications without forcing them to unplug. And for a handful of name-brand magazines, it’s delivered on that promise. Publications such as Popular Mechanics and the Economist have managed to achieve consumer-paid digital circulation that, in some cases, matches their single-copy print sales.

But for the second half of last year, digital editions still comprised only about 1 percent of total magazine circulation, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.  

Then there is The Daily, launched amid the awe of the fledgling field of tablet publishing, but with no brand recognition and a name so generic it is virtually impossible find on Google. If its demise signifies the end of a broader attempt by the publishing industry to test the viability of a promising new format, it is not alone in its collapse. Earlier this year, Nomad Editions, an iPad-only publishing company launched by former Newsweek head Mark Edmiston, quietly shut down its consumer magazines after slugging it out for close to three years. In an interview with Adweek, Edmison cited the difficulty of being discovered in the Apple App Store.   

Following The Daily’s closure, its founding editor, Jesse Angelo, will become publisher of the News Corp.-owned New York Post. Many of The Daily’s staff will reportedly move to that publication as well.

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