New broke this week that “The Daily”, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper, was being shut down. The four people who read it were probably heartbroken.
Sarcasm aside, the real question is whether the death of The Daily is indicative of a larger issue. Businessweek brought this question up, pointing out that Newsweek plans to go all-digital in the shadow of a nasty fall from grace for the competition. At the same time, as Slate points out, an iPad-only newspaper was naturally limited, which probably also hurt The Daily’s chances of survival.
Still, The Daily died due to a myriad of reasons, and only some of them will overlap with Newsweek. One, The Daily didn’t have a brand name before launch. Newsweek is very well known, and has a fairly big audience that will hopefully follow them into the digital world. Second, The Daily faced a great deal of competition from more generalist news aggregators. Pulse, Flipboard, and other apps have all tried to become the daily newspaper, pulling from various sources and becoming a “roll your own” newspaper. For many people, that’s infinitely more interesting and worth building than a premade newspaper with an air of “Hey, let’s capitalize on tablets! Tablets are cool, right?” hovering around it. Unfortunately, Newsweek is going to hit that one too, and that’s where being an existing newsmagazine will hopefully help them stand out a bit more.
Finally, there’s the real issue: how popular are newspapers and magazines on tablets, and how do you monetize it? eBooks have been a huge success, but ebooks are a very different kind of reading. You buy your book, and you read it. You buy and read magazines too, but they rely heavily on ads, and those don’t always translate well digitally. Plus, according to State of the Media, there’s a very unsettling race afoot; digital is growing, but print revenues are declining. If digital doesn’t grow fast enough to offset the drop in print (or to make up for print revenues, if you’re Newsweek), there may not be time to let the business grow.
It will take time to see how magazines and newspapers adapt; just because The Daily failed doesn’t mean every magazine will fail to become digital. But let’s hope that publishing is paying close attention to the successes and failures of The Daily…and that they learn not to make the same mistakes!