Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Daily debut flops: What went wrong?

The inaugural edition of The Daily was a dud. Unless it suddenly gets a whole lot better, we all can save the 99 cents it hopes to collect each week from subscribers.

The Daily debuted yesterday as the first scratch-built news publication for the iPad. But the initial edition of the long-awaited News Corp. project, which consisted of the barest possible news report backfilled by a bunch of vapid features, shockingly failed to live up to the ambitious mission it set for itself.

“It’s underwhelming,” said a friend paging with me through the new app for the first time. I couldn’t put it better myself.

The only thing not lightweight about The Daily is the amount of bandwidth required to download it. “The application is over 20 MB,” said a warning screen when I tried to acquire the app over AT&T’s wheezing 3G network. “Connect to wifi or use a computer to access it.”

Once The Daily was installed, I discovered that the day’s “news” report – which was not updated 12 hours after being introduced with great fanfare at mid-day in New York – was exactly four stories deep.

In addition to adequate but increasingly stale pieces on the turmoil in Egypt and the epic snowstorm in the Midwest, the other two stories on the “news” menu included a video on life behind bars at the Angola prison in Louisiana and an article on New York’s “doggie disco,” which was limned as “a hot spot for all kennel clubbers.”

From that inauspicious start, it was off to the really soft stuff, like a not-very-gossipy gossip piece on Natalie Portman, a yawner titled “Rihanna Who?” and the world premier of a game called “Oregon Trail,” which appears to be a cross between Farm Ville and Frontier Ville – as if we needed another one of those.

The lack of intellectual heft makes The Daily feel more like the Etch A Sketch edition of Us Magazine than the ground-breaking news platform it purports to be.

It was not all bleak. The pluses for the app included the ability to customize the sports section to feature your favorite teams, handsome picture galleries that switched on when the iPad was tilted to the horizontal position and a slick Macy’s ad that linked to the department store’s website, iPad app, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Not even the appealing technological touches, however, made up for the weak and confusing mix of content.

So, what were they thinking at News Corp., where Rupert Murdoch reportedly earmarked $30 million to bring this project to market?

If The Daily is going after the New York Times/Huffington Post/CNN crowd, it fails for want of deep, broad, timely and authoritative content.

If it is going after the Miami Herald/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ Portland Oregonian crowd, it fails for want of local news, local flavor and local advertising.

If it is going after the New York Post/TMZ/Entertainment Tonight crowd, it is too tame, too wordy and too expensive to compete at even 99 cents a year.

As the producers of the Broadway version of “Spiderman” will tell you, it sometimes takes a while to get the kinks out of a new creative undertaking. So, The Daily may yet rebound.

Still, it is hard to understand how News Corp. – with all the global cross-media resources at its command – stumbled so badly on opening day. Is there a news doctor in the house?


Blogger Stephen said...

You're missing the story. The iPad means nothing at this point. Those apps are just going to end up being another permutation on the browser... ok... maybe a little bit better.
How come the news media hasn't picked up on the fact that Murdoch gained 25% more paying subscribers in 4 months to the Times of London when he put up the paywall? He went from 200,000 to over 250,000. Those people are paying 160 bucks and murdoch can put those people as paying subscribers, thus garnering ad dollars.
The NYTimes goes paywall soon, along with Dallas. This will increase subscriber rolls. Look at my calculations below- the economics works without question. It's not about the money form the online subscriptions- even though murdoch has shown that it MORE THAN COVERS lost internet revenue. It's audience power. You're missing the story.

6:15 AM  
Blogger Simon Owens said...

Were you making a joke about Oregon Trail? That game predates Farmville by more than 20 years, as it was originally a board game and later morphed into a primitive computer game on the old Apple computers we used in elementary school.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Brian S Hall said...

I have an iPad. I am not impressed. However, I think it has potential and staying power.

[Warning. link ahead]

My reasons for this are here:

6:52 PM  
Blogger chuckl said...

The daily pales in comparison with many online newspapers. If the daily had come out in june of last year, it might have been interesting, but abcnews, huffpo, cnn, nyt, and washpost online newspapers are further evolved than ruperts new baby. And theyre free. Why would i shell out a buck for the daily when abc news is free and has a better site with more frequently updated stories. Debuting during the crisis in egypt, the daily right now is an embarrassment, with shockingly thin coverage.
Newspapers are an anachronism online anyway. Media news takes better advantage of the intrinsic qualities of mobile digital devices and pcs for telling stories using video and audio, whic is not an inherent strength of newspapers.

12:06 AM  
Blogger James said...

Yeah, the "Oregon Trail" story is soft, but is something that, oh, 25 years' worth of schoolchildren (or more) have vivid, fond memories of.

The problem is that outlets like the Christian Science Monitor already covered the Facebook debut a day or two before The Daily, and probably as well or better.

5:16 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It will be far more telling when you look at The Daily a couple of weeks from now. As an experienced startup specialist, I'd be willing to bet that months or years from now, someone will tell the story about how Big Problems occurred right on top of deadline for the debut.

The first issue smacks of recycled prototype content that was thrown into the first issue when things didn't work out quite as expected ...

10:31 AM  
Blogger Jeff P said...

I honestly think the best "newspaper" apps are The Times (London) and The Sunday Times. Being that they are 'related' to Murdoch, I'm disappointed that the Daily didn't steal more from them.
The Daily failed to give me any sense of what is going on in the nation or world, minus Egypt and snow.
Is this a newspaper or a magazine? I don't want a newsmag...i want something where I can get the gist of what's happening in DC and around the nation. I want complete sports results from last night in an easy-to-read page of agate. This publication has left me wantin g a lot more.
Graphics are great, front page great, 360-photo-great. But much more content is needed.

jeff prescott

11:16 AM  

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