Death, taxes and the demise of The Daily

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In terms of inevitable outcomes, the demise of The Daily was right up there with death and taxes.

News Corp. on Monday announced it would “cease standalone publication” of The Daily iPad app on Dec. 15.  The announcement was tucked into a broader release about News Corp.’s restructuring into two business units. The publishing group will retain the News Corp. name while the media and entertainment company will be called Fox Group.

The Daily, launched with great fanfare in February 2011, did not grow quickly enough to support its business model, which many critics saw as flawed from the beginning.

From the internal staff memo announcing the decision, obtained by Talking Points Memo:

Two years ago, we set out to create a revolutionary product that people would love.  The Daily delivered great original reporting, excellent design, and custom interactivity to users every day.  Although we have over 100,000 passionate paying subscribers, unfortunately we have not been able to build a big enough audience fast enough to make our business model work.

Several factors doomed The Daily. Nieman Journalism Lab polled its Twitter followers and came up with four primary contributors: the platform, the content, the structure and the business model. That pretty much covers it.

Say all you want about The Daily’s innovative design and “one-of-a-kindness,” but the model was built on some very traditional principles: a single-platform publication, subscription-based, fueled by original reporting, and weighted down by a bloated infrastructure. Haven’t we been down that road before?

The Daily never addressed Clayton Christensen’s “jobs to be done” concept. There was, in other words, no real need for it in the context of consumers’ lives. Consumers now expect access to information whenever and wherever they choose to receive it. They’ll pay for convenience, or utility, or uniqueness, but they won’t pay for commodity news, through a single source, behind a walled garden.

In today’s press release, Rupert Murdoch called The Daily “a bold experiment in digital publishing and an amazing vehicle for innovation.” Well, here’s something to keep in mind about experiments: Smaller is better. Failure stings a little less this way, and you can try more things until you find one or two that justify further investment.

In a rapidly shifting publishing industry, it’s ludicrous to invest $30 million up front and another $500,000 a week in operating costs on an unproven “bold experiment.” At its core, that’s just bad business.

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