How The Daily iPad Newspaper Can Succeed

| Editorial

Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, a prospective, paid newspaper for the iPad, won’t have to replace all our news sources on the iPad to be successful. It merely needs to appeal to people who want a simpler, better informed life.

Much has been written about whether this project, The Daily, by Mr. Murdoch will be successful or not. He’s sinking a lot of money into it, but he has the money to try. Some point out that we already have all the news sources and apps that we need and that Mr. Murdoch and his team are trying to relive the past. Others point out that a very well done iPad app that presents a compelling value proposition has a good chance of succeeding.

I want to explore the positive side of that argument.

Understanding People

Pioneers who get rich tend to have a better understanding of people than the rest of us. Their vision, whether it’s Dale Carnegie’s, Henry Ford’s or Steve Jobs’s, translates into broad appeal and then great wealth for them. They don’t dwell on the most elite customers and become discouraged; rather, they listen to the heartbeat of America while everyone else is either too distracted or too self-important to give people what they need.

The iPad itself is a case in point. After years of being pummeled by a PC mentality, we had no where else to turn. The iPad gave us something we needed, but couldn’t quite put our finger on (pun intended.) The genius of Steve Jobs and his Apple team nailed it.

The Subtleties of iPad Life

There’s the argument that with all the news applications on the iPad, plus Safari, with everything generally free, no one will pay for a daily digital newspaper that can’t be linked to and has no outbound links. That approach seems so archaic. What critics miss is our enduring need for coherence and simplicity. Geeks will point to how “easy” it is to create an account, log in to Google.com, subscribe to RSS feeds, then read these feeds on the iPad with Reeder. But 90 percent of the population doesn’t have the expertise, the time or the motivation to explore such esoterica. They just want the news they trust to appear on their iPad each morning while they eat breakfast. To understand that is to understand what Mr. Murdoch is up to.

iPad newspaper

Another thing that’s been overlooked by critics is that some apps have the capacity to breathe life into an iPad by exploiting its capability to the fullest. The world lay asleep in old metaphors of WIMP computing until the iPad came along and introduced new ways of literally touching content. Exciting iPad apps have come along, like Twitter, ABC Player, and Star Walk that capture our imagination and make it fun to interact with knowledge and entertainment. If The Daily can capture our imagination in the same fashion, US$52/year will be a small price to pay for a full featured digital newspaper.

Finally, parts of the Internet have become all about individuals who want a voice they never had. We live in a cacophony of opinion. The appeal of social networks is that suddenly other people are aware of us in ways they never were, to our smug satisfaction. We feel connected and important. But to feel important, many bloggers find that they have to feed on the provincialism of their readers. Any sufficiently outrageous viewpoint will find a band of adherents, but that fanaticism seldom leads to productive work. It just boosts the ego of the blogger. The challenge of The Daily will be to bring experience, expertise, talent, judgment, insight and perspective to a world full of snarkiness and attitude. That’s why The Daily will be a classic newspaper, and not a hotbed of incendiary news opinion coupled with reader wisecracks.

Summary: The Metrics of Success

If The Daily can appeal to a wide audience, showcase the best technology of the iPad, and simplify the lives of its readers who are hungry for literacy and insight, then it will be worth every penny and become a runaway success. And that will happen along side, not in place of, all the fussing we geeks do now with Facebook, Twitter, news websites, RSS, Reeder, Flipboard, and iPad apps.

Traditional, quality news sources are searching desperately for a business model that will pull them from the dying embers of newsprint and into the age of digital news. This route is one of those visions that lesser men often overlook and is worth a try. And even if The Daily fails, by any arbitrary standard, it will be a thoughtful signpost for the road ahead.

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5 Comments Leave Your Own

Frank Lowney

Assuming that The Daily will have unique content, how will that be incorporated into the record of our culture and heritage?  An historian today can peer into the past by reading the newspapers of 100 years ago.  How will the historian of the future do likewise when there are no surviving or readable copies of the Daily and its competitors?

skipaq

A subscription based newspaper can succeed if the content is in sufficient demand and presented in an easy to use manner. What would really peak my interest is if said subscription would have a menu of content that one could choose from. When it comes to national or world news the content appeals to a broad section of consumers. When it comes to financial, sports and other content, then having subscriber options would make The Daily or any other enterprising effort more compelling.

BurmaYank

Is there any way anyone knows of that could allow me to defeat the irritating “VIBRANTad” pop-up windows from popping-up on my iPhone 4 at their embedded text-links, e.g. “computing” (”... The world lay asleep in old metaphors of WIMP computing until the iPad came along…”), “productive” (”... adherents, but that fanaticism seldom leads to productive work…”) and “business” (“Traditional, quality news sources are searching desperately for a business model that will…”), etc.?

ilikeimac

My problem with the possibility of iPad-based magazines is that they seem to trade the usefulness of being a “document” for glitz and glamor of being an “app.” Documents can be opened on multiple devices and indexed and searched with Spotlight. I like my iPad but if I pay for premium content I want to be able to browse it on my computer as well, and know that I’ll still be able to get to it when the devices that can run its “app” are no longer around. EBooks (DRM issues aside) are at least a standard document that have the potential to remain accessible for a long time to come instead of being shackled to a device platform and an API that changes every few months.

Nemo

While a compelling app for his Daily with compelling content is necessary for Mr. Murdoch’s Daily to succeed, it isn’t sufficient, nor is it what he is solely depending upon for success.  Mr. Murdoch believes and desperately hopes that all the news organization like his, that do the actual original reporting that others merely aggregate or blog about, will move their content behind pay walls, so that it can only be reached by subscribers and not legally copied by others. 

Murdoch’s pay wall depends on the law and the law of demand.  Legally, putting their content behind a pay wall may defeat the exception to the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. ? 301, which appears to prevent major news organizations from suing in equity to at least recover the value of the work of their reporting.  Once behind a pay wall and properly protected by an adequately drafted subscription contract, a news organization should be able to sue for breach of contract and in equity any person, blogger, aggregator, or others, who takes its content for free and then republishes its content for profit by simply rewording it.  These are untried legally theories, but I think that they will hold up.  We shall certainly see what the courts will do, for it is without doubt that some, if not many, aggregators and bloggers will defy the provisions of the subscription contract and try to use the Daily’s content for free, as they now do with the New York Times, which is going behind a pay wall early next year, the Washington Post, and nearly every other source of original news reporting. 

But if the legal theory prevails in court and the essential sources of original reporting all go behind pay walls, the supply of free original reporting will be chocked off.  Bloggers will be reduced to blogging about their navel lint and aggregators will be aggregating that, but I doubt that many will want to read that, so no advertisers will want to pay for it.

The next question is whether, if deprived of free news from Google and other sources, enough people will resume the once common habit of paying for quality news reporting.  That is an open question.  I don’t think anyone knows whether the general taste has become so decadent and debauched that idle gossip about Paris Hilton and Katty Perry, and Jessica Biel—strike that, as Jessica Biel gossip is definitely a matter of some importance—is enough.  All Mr. Murdoch can do is try to prevail on the legal theories that will permit him to control the supply of his news and hope that his example and entreaties will encourage the others of his cohort to do likewise.  Then it will be up to the consumers.

This is more than idle curiosity, for as President Thomas Jefferson said:  ?The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.?  Letter to Benjamin Hawkins (13 August 1786) Lipscomb & Bergh ed. 5:390.  Because the financial basis of original, quality reporting is rapidly eroding to the point where the major newspapers won’t be able to do the reporting that is necessary to maintain a free and democratic society, Mr. Murdoch?s experiment is of the greatest moment.  If Murdock succeeds, the financial basis of quality and comprehensive reporting of all the news that is fit to print may be restored; if not, then we may get to see whether a democracy without reporting of the issues relevant to its prosperity can long endure.

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