A year on, Murdoch reveals numbers for iPad-only newspaper


Chris Keall

New medium, same politics

This time last year, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp launched the first iPad-only newspaper, The Daily.

Designed specifically for tablet readers, The Daily features lots of big pictures, video and other multimedia. There’s only one way to read it: by paying for a subscription via Apple’s iTunes.

A year on, how is it doing?

The Daily now has 100,000 subscribers paying 99 cents a week or $US39.99 a year, and 250,000 unique readers each month, the New York Times reported yesterday.

That is, around $4 million in subscription revenue. The Times says advertising is bringing in around the same amount.

News Corp said The Daily is on target to breakeven within five years.

$30 million bet on tablets
The New York Times – no friend of Mr Murdoch – calls it a failure, pointing out the mogul poured $30 million into The Daily’s launch, which has a staff of 150.

The Times also sniffs that some of The Daily’s (US-centric) content has been below the promised middle-brow. It has recently featured a story on a mutated kitten born with two faces, and video of objects exploding in microwave ovens.

Still, it has landed a couple of scoops in sports and entertainment news.

Android edition added
The slow, buggy performance that plagued The Daily’s first few weeks seems to be a thing of the past (although minor niggles remain).

And Mr Murdoch still has faith.

At CES last month, the News Corp boss announced the The Daily would be expanded to include an edition for Google Android-based tablets, starting with selected models in Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series. The Android edition is now live, but so far limited to tablets sold through one US carrier.

For now, subscriptions are available to US readers only (plus those who've wangled their way onto iTunes US) but there are plans (if no public timetable) to expand internationally.

How the Times’ paywall is doing
Some say The Daily lacks the immediacy an interactivity of a website. It’s also only updated twice a day, quite a contrast to the rolling, frenetic updates that characterise most news websites (The Daily’s involved, magazine-style layout perhaps makes updates more of a logistical hassle).

Certainly, looking at more modestly scaled local efforts, I personally prefer visiting the Herald or Stuff’s full websites on my tablet than their iPad apps. I feel I’m in more control over where I can navigate. And I don’t have to sit through 20 or 30 seconds of spinning graphics while the app loads.

The New York Times’ paywall launched in March 2011, on the heels of The Daily.

Where The Daily is tablet-only, the Times spans mobile, tablet and website editions.

At $US35 a month (or $US420 a year) for a full subscription, it’s also much more expensive than The Daily.

Nevertheless, the better-resourced Times says it has managed three times the paid subscribers of The Daily.

On Friday, announcing its results for its December quarter, the Times parent company said the paper had 324,000 paid online subscribers.

Many publishers will find that an impressive figure for under a year.

It compares well to the Times’ print circulation (916,000 subscribers to its daily print edition and 1.34 million to its Sunday edition).

By combining paid online with print subscriptions, the Times could claim a 3% rise in total circulation. And digital subs also helped it to a profitable quarter (net income for the December quarter was $US58 million on revenue of $US643 million, sparking a minor rally in the company's heavily depressed shares).

But it's not quite so flash when you consider the Times claims around 44 million unique browsers per month (around half of them from off-shore, meaning it’s neck and neck with the trashy Daily Mail for the title of the world’s most read newspaper site).

I subscribed to the Times online last year, out of professional interest, but let my subscription lapse. It’s a great paper, but a paywall is also hard yakka in the word of general news, where any story is matched elsewhere almost instantly. Plus, the Times metered paywall can be beaten by simply switching web browsers (say, from Chrome to IE or Safari or Firefox) when you hit your 20 stories a month limit).

Such easy workarounds must hurt the Times’ online subs drive.

Yet it’s also meant the paper’s site has held steady at around 44 million uniques.

Where does it all end? A device-specific edition like The Daily has short term appeal. But long term, as gadgets proliferate, most readers will want one pool of content they can access from any device. 

Prototye flexible tablets have been demonstrated from time to time. In a few years, I can see them helping to move the tablet market along, though not so much publications. They still won't provide the total control over navigation that a person mashing through a print edition enjoys).

Another interesting development is Google's HUD (Head Up Display) glasses (above), still in development but recently spotted in public.

These Android sunnies can connect wirelessly to Google cloud services, displaying information about a person's surroundings.

I can see potential for delivering a newspaper wirelessly, too. Certainly, it would save space if you wanted to read NBR on a bus.

CNet reckons they look a bit Terminator. I would say more Revenge of the Nerds. Still, just wait until we get to the next step: a display etched onto contact lenses.

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