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By Thomas Baekdal - February 2011

Is The Daily Ready for the Digital World?

Yesterday, Robert Murdoch launches the much talked about "The Daily". It is a newspaper designed for the iPad. It will supposedly bring in a new era for journalism, with the immediacy of the web. It all sounds good but is it really worth anything?

The short answer: It is better than most, but also very print-ish.


Before I dig into the ups and downs of The Daily, I have a confession to make. I have not actually used it, yet. The Daily is restricted to the US iTunes store, and as such, I am not allowed to read it.

I know there are a number of ways for people in Europe to get US iTunes accounts, and I do actually have one. But, I don't want to mess up my iPad every time a clueless company decided to restrict their digital markets to analog borders.

Why have so many business executives lost their common sense? Your audience don't stop at an arbitrary line on a map.

The good stuff

The Daily is very pretty. Of course, It had to be since it was created with help from Apple. It is easy to read, the text looks good, the graphic is nice, and it is relatively easy to navigate.

No format

They are not limiting themselves to a format. Sure it is only available on the iPad, but by format, I mean they are not fixed in a "we need text articles" mindset.

When you open the app, you get the choice between reading the article, having them read to you using audio, or watch a summary in a TV news broadcast-like video. They say they use the same thinking when it comes the articles. Some are just text others are video, interactive graphics, etc.

That's a really great thing to do. One example. A traditional author would say "I need to write a new book", when he should be saying "I need to tell a great story." What if that story was better told as an interactive visual journey, as an audio seminar, or just as a wiki?

You don't write books anymore. You tell a story in whatever format that best suites it.

The Daily is nowhere close to being perfect at format-less publishing, but is it better than most newspapers (and blogs for that matter).

It is a Paygate and is (fully) sharable

I admit I have been very skeptical about The Daily. A newspaper only on the iPad, behind a paywall? You can't share that. You need the web to share content to Twitter, Facebook, and all the other places.

But then The Daily completely caught me by surprise. They annouonced that all their content could be fully shared on social channels. And, your friends could read the articles for free (example).

That's a not a paywall at all. That is the very paygate concept that invented for Baekdal PLUS. One that I have described in great detail.

Rubert Murdoch has embraced the freaking paygate? I'm speechless.

The paygate is, in my opinion, the most important thing media companies need to do. We all know that free is not a very good business model. We know that digital advertising is not likely to replace the old revenue streams.

The media need to find ways to get people to pay for content - in a way that enables rather than restricts. The paygate is all about that. It restricts non-subscribers from reading the full content, but it fully enables the paying subscribers to use or share the content however they like.

You reward you paying audience, and sharing help you grow.

Some articles are merely shared as a screen shot from the app, while others lack all the visuals. But, many are shared with images, text, and video.

Note: I do not think that the editors of The Daily have been reading I would be happy if they did, but the paygate is not really rocket science. If you want people to pay for content and embrace the social world, the paygate is really the only option.

It is not closed off - at least not completely.

Another great thing about The Daily is that it brings in information from the internet. In an article about Rihanna, there is a box with her tweets.

They are also linking outside the app, although rarely in the articles themselves. They have direct links to the iTunes store... remember, Apple was part of this.

And they can supposedly update the newspaper throughout the day, although they do not seem to actually do it. The article about Egypt did not reflect any of the changes that happened during the day.

You also have things like read later and comments. The comments can even be made in an audible format. I am very curious as to how that is going to turn out.

Compared to most news apps, The Daily is actually quite brilliant. I'm shocked!


The not so good stuff

While there is a lot of good things about The Daily, there is also a number of bad things.

It's print all over again

First of all, the newspaper only updates once every morning. It comes in daily editions, with no clear way of reading articles across days (if any).

The story about Egypt didn't end yesterday, so how are they going to continue telling the story today, in relation the story of yesterday? In the print world, you can't do that. On the web, we do it all the time - it is just a link.

It is insane to limit your editorial content to daily chunks. It is a limitation created because of lack of connection and cost in distribution from the print world. It has never been a good idea to limit yourself to "a daily", it was simply the best we could do in the past.

Why isn't the article about Egypt linked to a time-line? One with links to the previous articles, and that changes over time? It is what we in the digital world call "related articles."

The navigation

This brings us to the navigation. In the print world, it is really hard to go from page 12 to, say, page 35. You have to manually flip each page 23 times just to get there. We don't have that limitation in the digital world. Content isn't stacked on top of each other - it's organic.

But, The Daily works just like on paper. You have to flip through each page, and you have no idea what will come next. It is flip, no, flip, not interesting, flip, flip, still not interesting, flip, flip, flip, ehm... maybe I will read that later, flip, flip, flip, flip, flip... *sigh*... flip, flip flip, Ah! That is an interesting article, flip, flip...

Why do so many iPad news apps keep doing this? We already have a much faster, more direct and valuable navigation method. We have been using it on the web for years.

Your content should be presented as an organic soup of choices. You present what you have to offer. People click on what they prefer to read. And, you then extend the article with other articles of interest.

To solve this constant flippiness, The Daily has implemented a carousel. In this you can see thumbnails of each page.

Again, this is the print world. The way traditional editorial managers get an overview of the content, is to zoom out in InDesign until you can see all pages. That is what the carousel is all about. A fancy way to zoom out in InDesign.

The problem with thumbnails is that they are very poor at conveying what the content is really all about. The only people who can use this effectively are the people who created the pages in the first place.

So while it looks great from the perspective of The Daily staff, it is useless from the point of view the reader.

In the real digital world, we don't do thumbnails because we know how bad they are at conveying information. Instead, we present the stories using headlines and short summaries. Here is an example from Flipboard.

Another problem is the front cover. The cover is something you need in the print world in order to sell it at the newsstands. Once people have bought a magazine, the cover is merely the first thing you have to flip.

In the digital world, the cover is completely useless. It is just a splash screen that wastes your time. There is a good reason why there is no cover page on any digital news sites online.

The Daily has two covers. First, there is a cover showing an animation of the logo, followed by the cover of the daily issue. Get rid of it!

Note: To put things into perspective. On this site, 99.12% never see the front page of - never! People want to go directly to the content they care about. They do not want to navigate or flip through pages.

The audience and the content

A bigger problem with The Daily is the target demographics. It is everyone.

This strategy worked well in the print world. Limitations in distribution meant that the only good way to sell content was to group it together in big packages.

We do not have that limitation in the digital world. Everyone = mediocracy.

Every edition is going to be filled with content that most people don't care to read. And what content that is, is going to be different from one person to the next.

I wrote a long article about this problem in "The Future of News And The Replicators".

The content itself is very low end. You get articles about how people's driving habits are linked to their astrological signs. How old people don't know who Rihanna is. Out of date news stories (because they are a day late), and sports articles that don't tell any story.

Sure, you also get a few mildly interesting stories, but The Daily lack depth.

Murdoch also said The Daily would be about "original" content, so it is puzzling to see articles like "Snowed Under". Articles that is merely content from Associated Press. That is not original, that is old media copy/pasting.

It also has a place for weather and the daily Sudoku. Why?

Why would anyone go into a newspaper to see what the weather is like? Why not just go into a much better weather app. Same with Sudoku. Why would I go into a newspaper to get that? Why not just download one of the many dedicated Sudoku apps in the App store?

A digital newspaper is a place you get news. It is not a place where you play games, or watch the weather. There is no scarcity, so there is no value in trying to give people more.

We have the same problem with the sports section. There is no value in creating a sports section with no real depth in its coverage. That is something that was useful in the old world of scarcity. The Daily is going to be completely outperformed by dedicated sports channels and sites.

The number one concern that every reader has, is "WE DO NOT HAVE THE TIME."

Because of that, people divide their time into things they care about and are willing to spend time on. And, things they can just quickly glance at.

As a media company, you have to adapt to this shortage of time vs. abundance of choices. You have to either provide comprehensive value, or create easy digestible summaries.

What The Daily is doing is something in the middle, and it doesn't work.

The price

Long time readers of this site are already familiar with the problem of pricing. Just read "Why The Guardian Pricing Model Is Wrong." The Daily costs $0.99 per week, and that is way too low.

They are conveying the message that a week of The Daily is worth half the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It is much less than what you would tip a bell boy at hotel!

The media industry has to stop this insane degradation of the real value of content. You have to demonstrate that you are worth paying for. Part of that is setting a price that signifies the level of value people can expect.

Will The Daily be a profitable?

Well, no. It only costs $500,000 per week to make. That is very high compared to digital native media companies (like Mashable), but very low compared to the traditional media industry.

At $0.99 per week, they need to get 725,000 subscribers just to break even (remember Apple is taking a 30% cut). This is 10% of the entire iPad market share. And considering they already spent 30 million setting it up, + the time it takes to get to 725,000 subscribers, the actual number of subscribers needs to be more than double of that.

Jeff Jarvis wrote a good article about the economics.

You can't follow it, nor subscribe to it outside the app.

While I am very impressed with how sharing works, the paygate concept is about two things, not one.

It is...

The Daily only supports the first part. Yxou cannot read The Daily outside the app. You cannot subscribe to it via RSS. You cannot read it Flipboard. You cannot stay up to date via Twitter. You cannot add it to Instapaper. You cannot grab notes from it. You cannot download the images, or share just the video clips. You cannot get it via email.

Robert Murdoch did say that The Daily would come to other tablets in the future, but the concept is to make a destination. It is something that you have to go to, instead of making news that comes to you.

You need to be a source!

Minor technical issues

A number of people reports that it has performance problems and a lagging navigation. Another problem is that the videos are all in very low quality. It is probably because they want to keep down the size of the download.

Here is a tip. We are all connected... use wi-fi.

Finally, several people report that it is crashing. It even did so during the LIVE press event, yesterday.

Is The Daily worth paying attention to?

Yes and no. As I wrote above, it is a lot better than most, and I was positively surprised. There is a lot you can learn from it and I expect that it will be successful in the short run (although not profitable).

Nevertheless, It is still very much a print magazine. It might not have come from print, but it has print marks all over it. As I wrote in "Print vs. iPad vs. Web," The iPad is the next web. It's the web without the limitations of the desktop computer.

Forget about print formats, it's over. The internet was the next print.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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