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February 25, 2018

Nine Questions on Murdoch's Doubly Cool "Daily"

News Corp’s The Daily makes its long-awaited debut Wednesday — sticking its head above the digital soil on Ground Hog’s Day, no less, and no one still quite knows what to make of it. It’s a big story, universally covered by national media, and yet, media’s not quite sure exactly why.

The Daily, I think, is getting rapt attention simply because it’s been wrapped in a great storyline by that wizardly storyteller Rupert Murdoch. It’s doubly cool. It’s the cool, first native general news (!) product for the coolest must-have device of our time, the iPad. That makes it a hot property and builds the legend of Murdoch, much as he’d like us all distracted from his MySpace miseries and the nasty News of the World imbroglio that’s enveloped his UK businesses, and put at risk his BSkyB acquisition.

It is, to Murdoch’s credit, an act of imagination, in a news world thoroughly disposed to repurposing, and one that is an early 2011 test of whether enough digital news readers will open their wallets — and for what (“The Newsonomics of Mr. Murdoch’s Daily“). Therein will lie its success or failure. In anticipation of the launch, here are nine questions on “The Daily” and its impact:

1) What’s it read like? The biggest challenge for The Daily isn’t money — though we are all focused on the “paid” model — but time. Our time is lots more valuable than 99 cents a week and reading The Daily means adding a new daily habit, replacing some other news reading, we’d think, or some other activity to be sure. To displace other habits, newsy and otherwise, it must compel our attention. Great columnists do that as can cool must-check-daily interactive tricks (the USA Today cover fact boxes updated for 2011?). A passionate take on the news can do that. A great original mix of original content and smart aggregation can do that. All are easier said than done.

2) What will The Daily do with Cairo’s Time? Egypt is the story of the week. With The Daily planning on being a daily, not an instant, news product, its thinking and philosophy will be tested literally Day One. If it has yesterday’s Egypt news, as the revolution goes down, it will read like yesterday’s paper, while CNN excels live from the street. That’s the advantage, the Journal, the Times and every newspaper has, a print compilation still valuable as a package to tens of millions — and the ability to do continually updated news. If The Daily does stay updated, using wires, the content may look like much of what others’ have, so that’s another challenge as well.

3) Is 99-cents the new news price? Behind the scenes, news publishers preparing pay models are looking both at subscriptions (monthly and annually) and at day passes. Some say 99 cents a day or a week is the ticket for web readers, and we’ll see tests using that model. The Daily, priced at 99 cents a week, is one early test, seeking a ratification of the notion that the iTunes music pricing model may be the way to go for news. It’s much less a commitment than a “subscription” and may upend those attempts to impose that print-like model.

4) How much can I sample; how much can I snack? The Daily, as the first digital general news native, invites a look. How easy will “the paper” (we need a new word, here) make it for me to try it out, tool around it, without committing to payment? What kind of metered system might it be on, to invite in readers, let the look around, even without pushing the magic iTunes’ 99-cent button? That could be critical to its early success, and, at the same time, a test of how flexible Apple is with its new digital subscription systems.

5) How much will The Daily crowd out other soon-to-launch paid news products, most specifically the new New York Times tablet app, set to launch when the Times goes paid? We believe Times print subscribers will get access to a digital bundle, including the iPad version, for free, but the Times needs at least several hundred thousand non-print readers to pay for the bundle as well. How tough will it be for news publishers to convince news readers to buy several online newspapers? What kind of first-mover advantage will The Daily have?

6) How much will The Daily leverage the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones video networks? They’ve been big successes, continuing to harvest way-above-text ad rates, and now produce more than 10 million video page views a month. Yes, The Daily needs to be independent, but smartly using Dow Jones content (Journal, AllThingsD and Marketwatch, especially) gives it leg up at a relatively low cost.

7) Will The Daily carry any Press+ branding? News Corp bought into Journalism Online in June, as a minority investor, helping that company more quickly build up its tech staff towards 2011 implementations. Since The Daily doesn’t have a substantial web analog (or a print one), we think it has to use Apple e-commerce. Making The Daily a part of the Press+ network, somehow, would give Journalism Online a substantial network effect boost.

8) After its first blush of exposure subsides, how will it find new readers? It could be a lonely island of a product. It’s tablet-only, and it’s paid, two paths leading to lonesomeness in an increasingly connected news world. Those limitations means it will be challenged by limited search engine optimization — and we’ll have to see how it plays the social whirl traffic referral game, as Facebook and Twitter tablet users try to make comments and connections (how exactly?) to The Daily. Since search and social search are the leading ways to gain traffic, and cheaply, we’ll have to see what moves The Daily makes here. For instance, what might it do with a Flipboard, a native news aggregator, an early sensation of the tablet, which could push it some customers?

9) What’s Rupert’s number? He’s got one; we just don’t what it is. The Daily will be a splendid learning experiment for News Corp, but how much investment, additional to the initial $30 million, may he make? That, of course, depends on revenue. Get 100,000 paid subscribers, and the net (after Apple’s share) would be $3.5 million a year in reader revenue, less than five percent of the Journal’s, and nowhere near enough to break even with a staff of 150. Get 300,000 paid subscribers, and that’s $10.5 million and highly profitable, as advertising starts to hum. We’ll be looking for two numbers: overall subscriptions sold (annually and monthly) and churn, though the latter probably won’t be reported. Depending on sampling/money-back offers, we could see a bubble of sales and then quicksand. Murdoch’s made many investments, bad and good, and is showing a quicker hand now at going quickly with what works, and letting the others move quickly into the archives.

What’s your question?

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