iPads are popular. News is popular. Why not combine the two?
That, it appears, is Rupert Murdoch’s thinking behind the Daily, the first iPad only newspaper that News Corps look set to unveil in the coming month.
Rumour has it that Murdoch has jumped into bed with Steve Jobs over at Apple, and together they have secretly come up with a tablet only news product. There will be no web edition, no print edition … just an iPad product which will cost punters 99 cents (that’s 62 pence) a week.
According to US sources, the American-centric ‘iPaper’ will be run from the 26th floor of News Corp’s New York offices and will employ a dedicated staff of around a hundred journalists to create content for the daily product, including Pete Picton, an online editor at the Sun.
Although there has been no announcement as to who will edit the paper, it is widely assumed the job will fall to Jesse Angelo, the managing editor of the New York Post.
Sources report Murdoch intends to spend at least $30m on this newspaper in the first year, suggesting this is more than just dipping his toe in the digital waters, but could be the first of several such products across his world-wide media empire.
Murdoch has made no secret of his love for the iPad, and is thought to have come up with this idea after reading that iPad users spend more quality time with digital products than their standard Internet using counterparts.
So, is the Daily the future of news?
Erm … I don’t think so, and here’s why …
For the Daily to be the future, one must also assume that iPads are the future.
Yes, 62 pence a week is cheaper than buying a paper newspaper everyday, but in order to read it you need to spend £500 on an iPad. Even, as optimistic projections suggest, there will be 40 million iPads in circulation by the end of 2011 (and I do think that’s optimistic – currently Apple report sales of 7.5 million) the product will always be restricted by its delivery mechanism.
The reason that online news and newspapers are so popular is because the barrier to entry is so low.
In the case of a paper product, you currently need 20 pence – £1 in your pocket, hands and eyes to read the news on the move. For an online journal, you can access up-to-the-minute reports, analysis and comment for free (except many Murdoch products – for them you’ll pay) with any half-decent mobile phone when you’re on the move, and then when you’re at home or in your office (which all have a computer of some sort) you can continue reading your favourite news provider.
And even if you do have an iPad, why would you pay for the Daily and restrict yourself to ‘a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence’ Murdoch-style when you can enjoy the myriad news providers of the web via their websites for free (or as part of your cripplingly expensive 3G package) on your tablet.
With that in mind, the instantaneous nature of online news becomes relevant … is the Daily going to be a newspaper on an iPad or an online news service delivered through a tablet?
Early indications suggest that the Daily will essentially run like a newspaper, going to (albeit digital) print late in the evening and publishing a digest of the day’s news. There will be ‘updates’ it’s understood, but if The Times iPad app (which is surely one of the motivations behind this bold experiment) is anything to go by, the primary focus of the Daily will probably be closer to a ‘static’ print edition, rather than having the rolling news nature of a website at its core.
If this is the model … who is going to pay for that?
The reason that The Times have sold a bunch of iPad subscriptions at a tenner a month is because they are a long established brand with hundreds of thousands of loyal readers. They have a reputation that dates back centuries and people trust what they have to say. The Daily has none of that, so who is going to commit to using it as their main news source?
So we move on to another problem with the model, which is the ‘paywall culture’ of newspapers. It’s not inspiring and it discourages a sense of community amongst readers.
People like to talk about things they’ve read in the news, whether that’s Somali pirates, the economy, a royal wedding or the X Factor. The phrases, did you see the front page of The Sun, or have you read Charlie Brooker on x,y or z are not uncommon still in this age of bloggers and anything-goes multi-platformed web surfing.
Paper editions of newspapers get passed around the home, the office and left on the train. Websites get their links shared by email, on forums, via Twitter and Facebook … an app can’t be part of that ‘web’ experience.
Are enough people going to a. read the Daily to create any sense of community, b. know that the Daily exists to talk about it. I think they’ll struggle.
How are they going to draw people in? With exclusives that most people couldn’t buy into even if they wanted to (because they don’t have an iPad)? With teasers on their website … will they have a website … oh, no, they’re app only? The mind boggles how this thing is actually going to get off the ground?
Now a paywall is one thing … it hides an established paper brand’s web presence from the world. But in the case of The Times, The Sunday Times and the News of the World, there is still a paper product in existence. They maintain brand awareness through that and can still play a part in the news agenda because of it. Although even they have struggled to convince serious numbers to pass that paywall.
But the Daily won’t have that news stand presence, or that Google News presence (on which this website relies for its custom) … it’ll just be a ‘buy’ button (albeit a heavily promoted one) in the iTunes app store.
Now I’m sure the clever folk over at News Corps have got a raft of fascinating cross promotional ideas up their sleeves to give the Daily an initial boost (presumably a lot of free trials a la The Times) … but after the novelty wears off (and I think it will quite quickly), I fear the Daily could end up going the same way as the ‘game changing’ first full colour British newspaper Today. In 1986, it was the future of middle market tabloids purporting ‘propa truth not propaganda’ …
… Where is it now?