Since the day he bought his first newspaper aged 22, Rupert Murdoch has shaken up the world’s press, revolutionised television and transformed the way politics is discussed from Australia and Britain to America. But one area has so far eluded his Midas touch: digital publishing. Until, he hopes, now.
With a huge roll of the dice, Murdoch has sought to put a seal on his reputation as a visionary media tycoon by launching the Daily, a news operation created from scratch and designed specifically for the iPad. Much is riding on it, not just Murdoch’s personal legacy in the twilight of his career, but, in his own description, the future of how people produce and consume journalism.
Looking rather stiff in the leg, but showing no reduction in the scale of his ambitions, Murdoch took to the stage of a theatre in New York’s Guggenheim museum to unveil the venture, with Apple, the iPad’s creator, lending a supporting hand. If he was anxious about raising expectations for the product, he certainly didn’t show it.
The Daily, he said, would herald a new journalism for new times. It would combine the “serendipity and surprise” of newspapers with the speed and versatility of new technology; it would make news-gathering “viable again”. It was his offering for what he called the digital renaissance. “Simply put, the iPad demands that we completely reimagine our craft.”
Part of that reimagining, he said, was that with the Daily there would be “no paper, no multimillion-dollar presses, no trucks”. That in turn, gave its editors the licence to experiment and innovate.
Murdoch’s record on digital publishing has so far been underwhelming, marked by the failure of the social networking site Myspace, and observers are keen to see whether the Daily will fare any better.
Some have written it off as dead on arrival, thanks to its fusion of old and new media. It will be fully digital, but published every night in time for the subscriber to read over morning coffee. “Wonderful! Slower news – and at a higher price,” wrote Scott Rosenberg of Salon before the launch.
As ever, Murdoch has dismissed the naysayers with a flick of his ample cheque book. He has sunk $30m (£19m) into developing the Daily and said it would cost $26m a year to cover its costs, including those of 100 staff. He is targeting the 50 million people expected to own an iPad by the end of next year. Analysts project that he can cover costs if 2% of them could be persuaded to subscribe to the Daily at 99 cents a week – no mean task, considering that there are already 9,000 other news apps for the iPad on the market. “It will all come down to content,” said Alan Mutter, blogger and former editor of the Chicago Daily News. “He’s going to have to make something very compelling to get people to pay.”
The first edition of the Daily had a conventional news front on Egypt under the headline “Falling Pharaoh”. It gave high billing to its gossip section, with features on Natalie Portman and Rihanna, and a column by Richard Johnson, formerly the doyen of the Page Six gossip column of the New York Post. It also showcased several digital bells and whistles, including photographs that can be scanned through 360 degrees, a “carousel” of stories that can be spun with a finger, and stories that you can listen to like a radio.
How would he measure success, Murdoch was asked. “When we are selling millions,” he replied.
The Daily lay out
In its first editorial, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad “newspaper” the Daily proclaims that “new times demand new journalism”. Murdoch has bet $30m (£18.6m) of News Corp’s money that his team can create that new journalism and steal a march on every other publisher.
The Daily also represents a radical bet: that people who have become used to paying nothing for content online will be happy to pay 99¢ a week for an iPad newspaper. This is Murdoch’s gamble, and one which he is making in the face of much scepticism from his critics.
So what does an iPad newspaper feel like? The answer is “not much like a newspaper Instead, the Daily feels much more like one of the better examples of an iPad magazine, along the lines of Wired or Virgin’s Project. Despite the fact that both publications are ultimately owned by the same company, the Daily is nothing like the Times’s iPad app, as there’s little attempt to replicate much of the look, feel or tone of a traditional print newspaper.
This means there’s plenty of video, both in stories and the ads that are strewn through the Daily. In some cases, rather than use ordinary photographs, there are 360-degree panoramic shots that you can swipe around. Sometimes these videos and panoramas feel gimmicky, but occasionally they work well.
As with all the better iPad magazines, there’s effectively two layouts to almost every page, one designed for portrait orientation, one for landscape. Flipping between the two can reveal extra content, different picture versions, and so on. You can comment on every page, and as well as post links to the web versions of any page to Facebook or Twitter. What will ultimately decide whether the Daily lives or dies is the quality of its content. Like any kind of new publication, the Daily is going to take some time to find its feet. At the moment, it feels in places more like a newspaper created by a slightly dull committee rather than something with the kind of personality and viewpoint that truly great publications have.
At 99¢ a week, the Daily is going to have to sell a lot of copies if it’s to turn an operating profit, let alone recoup the $30m that News Corp has spent developing it. Would I buy it? The answer is probably yes, because the price is so low that it’s almost nothing. But whether the Daily is good enough to convince the hundreds of thousands of subscribers it needs to break even is another matter.