2 major lessons from the demise of The Daily

The publisher of News Corp.’s The Daily said earlier this year that the iPad-only publication might need a few more years to be profitable. Today the company announced it won’t get that chance.

Although it has been one of the most-popular and highest-grossing iPad news apps, The Daily was unable to gather enough paying subscribers at 99 cents a week or $39.99 a year to sustain itself.

In a note to staff, The Daily’s publisher and editor-in-chief said, “Although we have over 100,000 passionate paying subscribers, unfortunately we have not been able to build a big enough audience fast enough to make our business model work.”

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch set a high bar. He said early on that The Daily would be a success “when we are selling millions.” With expenses running at about a half million dollars a week, the publication would have needed near 500,000 subscribers at $3.99 a month or $39.99 a year just to break even. So one big failing was the business model.

News Corp. will shut it down on Dec. 15 and as of this morning the apps are no longer available for download. Some of the approximately 120 employees will be folded into the New York Post staff.

Being the first-of-a-kind is as dangerous as it is exciting in the technology world. With few or no prior examples to learn from, you’re left to try stuff and learn the hard way. With the benefit of hindsight, there seem to be at least two other major lessons from The Daily’s failure:

1. Audience clarity. It was difficult to grasp who exactly was the intended audience of The Daily. It excelled at interactive elements and visual appeal, but the contents were so sprawling and varied that it was tough to know who this publication was speaking for and to.

2. One platform isn’t enough. The Daily was first imagined as the daily news magazine for the iPad era. Going with a tablet-first strategy was a great, ambitious idea.

But going with a tablet-only strategy? In hindsight, questionable.

Research has since shown that tablet owners are “digital omnivores” who consume media seamlessly across tablets, smartphones, PCs and print publications. To serve them news on only one platform is not satisfying.

Contrast that with the new direction in which we see publishers like Quartz and USA Today heading — optimizing their websites for a tablet-style swipe-and-scroll experience, but still serving readers seamlessly across all platforms.

Murdoch said, via a press release:

From its launch, The Daily was a bold experiment in digital publishing and an amazing vehicle for innovation. 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. Therefore we will take the very best of what we have learned at The Daily and apply it to all our properties.

Journalists outside of News Corp. will be applying those lessons too. Here are some other reactions from media figures:

Related: Murdoch’s decision wasn’t about the money (Capital New York) | News orgs should focus on reader relationships, not readers’ devices, Jeff Jarvis says (The Guardian) | “Someone needed to see whether there was such a thing as tablet-native journalism…The answer, it turns out, is no.” (Felix Salmon/Reuters) | 3 Theses About The Daily’s Demise (Alexis Madrigal/The Atlantic) | The Daily didn’t fail, Murdoch gave up (Jack Shafer/Reuters) | Tablet readers don’t want Interactivity, says Hearst president (Mashable).

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  • leo from chicago

    Yeah, right — except that those ‘hundreds of millions’ probably won’t be iPads — or even tablets. No reason to shoot yourself in the leg by limiting your content to one manufacturer and one model especially when the functionality of your particular ‘magazine’ (or whatever you want to call it) is hardly unique.

  • yummyyummyfly

    Apparently, The Daily was targeted towards “patriots.” The editor said at the launch, “obviously, we are patriots.” Presumably that means things like they would have burned the Pentagon Papers. Or something. (I can’t find a link to the launch video right now, but that really is what the crack-pot sounding editor said.) Also, I’m not sure there’s a large base of readership for Fox News type of content. Those folks prefer their Neocon and Con newstertainment served to them fully precooked; i.e. on TV.

  • http://twitter.com/Swift818 Jim Hassinger

    The Daily failed to find an audience. A lot of the trouble was the clash between a old-time press lord and the new medium. The lack of links with the outside world does not help. But most of all, forget everything but the editorial. Start simply with a medium that is simple, and not a complete newspaper. Or at least, cut down the number of departments. Fewer articles. Links to more exhaustive information if you want it. Basically, focus on the writing more. That’s what makes reading fun, not videos and graphics and stylish drawings. Do a venture with a sharp group of cinematographers. This was just stale old media in a PDF.

  • the Ugly Truth

    A staff of 120? Really? No wonder.

  • mrpommer

    “But going with a tablet-only strategy? In hindsight, questionable.”

    Maybe someone should have warned Marco Arment when he launched The Magazine (iOS Newsstand only) that being first in with a new format made it hard to be profitable. No wait… he’s profitable already, and paying writers full rate.

    Perhaps the secret is in having good content that doesn’t rely on ink-based thinking, and not peppering your publication with crappy ads.

    Now that’s a braaaaand strategy.

  • SockRolid

    Re: “But going with a tablet-only strategy? In hindsight, questionable.”

    If The Daily had launched 3 or 4 years from now, it would have been profitable.

    There will be hundreds of millions of iPads around the world by then.

  • SockRolid

    Re: “With expenses running at about a half million dollars a week…”

    What? Are there 300 full-time writers? Or are there some other expenses that couldn’t be cut for one reason or another? $70k+ per issue is a huge run rate.

  • http://pt-br.facebook.com/people/Andre-Kenji-De-Sousa/731129656 André Kenji De Sousa

    The Daily was a boring version of one of the Murdoch´s British tabloids, but without the naked women at page 3.

  • jones19876

    While I too believe it was an interesting experiment, The Daily had several shortcomings nobody at News Corp seemed to want to address, namely trash can-worthy content.

    It seems it suffered from a bad model that followed a poorly thought-out strategy aimed at the wrong demographic rather than a platform-level issue. The iPad and/or any other tablet OS is just a support, it doesn’t make the product.

    Seems like we’re just all really short on common sense these days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lester.nelson Lester Nelson

    Maybe I don’t speak for everyone, but The Daily failed for me because of its simply laughably bad content. A few fluffy, poorly written entertainment articles and a couple of conservative editorials surrounded by a bunch of tweet-length cliffs notes of world news is not worth paying money for when I can find much better reading materials with clear points of view online for free. If it were a publication that invested in investigative and well-thought-out long form journalism, I would’ve happily kept my subscription running.