Digital destinies

Last week, News Corp. announced that it planned to cut about 50 staff from The Daily, a paid iPad app that is said to have 100,000 subscribers. It is considered one of the highest-grossing paid apps available.

Coverage of the announcement has been mixed. At columnist Jeff Bercovici asked, "If [The Daily] can't make money, who can?"

Though less optimistic about The Daily, Ron Matejko of MVP Media remains bullish on apps. Writing for Publishing Executive, Matejko makes the alliterative point that "The Daily's deficiencies don't define digital destiny".

Matejko says that The Daily made several mistakes that other app publishers can avoid:

  • It spent too much too fast, investing $50 million in the first year
  • It failed to break news or offer distinct content
  • It cut in two areas (news and opinion) that Metejko claims are solid draws
  • It failed to recruit destination writers that would attract digital subscribers

There's a problem underneath all of these observations, though: The Daily looks and feels like a newspaper. It decides what I should read, and it presents it. Despite a somewhat bloated interface, The Daily offers little chance for discovery, and it really doesn't learn.

Compare The Daily experience to those offered by Flipboard or Zite, or Amazon, for that matter. Interfaces that learn from what we do are not a substitute for curated content, but services that don't learn from what we do increasingly fail to compete.

This is a lesson that could apply to Next Issue Media, as well. Perpetuating the container model in a digital setting is comforting to editors and art directors, but it doesn't really do much for readers.

The Daily is not dead, and I hope it can be sustained as News Corp. completes work to separate its media operations. Unfortunately, the time frames for competing digitally may be shrinking, and the company that ran aground with both MySpace and Beliefnet could use a few more wins.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.