What can be learned from the demise of The Daily? News Corporation announced on Monday that the iPad publication will shut its digital doors on Dec. 15, less than two years after Rupert Murdoch hailed it as a “model for how stories are told and consumed in this digital age.”
Jesse Angelo, The Daily’s editor-in-chief, has been named publisher of The New York Post, where some staffers will also go to work. News Corp. did not say how many employees will be laid off.
Press critics, in interviews with TPM, responded to the news with a noticeable lack of surprise. “I didn’t expect it to even last this long,” said Mathew Ingram, a senior writer at GigaOm, a site focused on covering business and technology. “Especially since, judging by all the numbers we’ve been able to gather, it wasn’t profitable, wasn’t making money, didn’t have nearly the readership (Murdoch) said it needed to have. So I’m kind of torn, to be honest, between thinking that it was doomed to failure and between thinking that it was a worthwhile experiment.”
One lesson to take from The Daily, Ingram added, is the risk of being a tablet-only app in a multi-platform world. “The lack of any sort of Web presence, the lack of anything other than just The Daily app, I think, effectively doomed it to failure. Because you never know where people are going to encounter your content. You need to find them with it wherever you are, wherever they are, instead of sort of forcing them to come and use your app.”
Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU and the author of “Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators,” told TPM that the closure proves “Rupert Murdoch is not very good at the internet.”
“News Corps’ general-interest businesses have historically relied on vertical integration and selling scarcity, two things that don’t work so well online,” he said in an email. “It’s long since time that we stop assuming that most new media ventures will succeed; the days when a company could launch Cigar Aficionado or Lucky and assume that there was a reasonable chance of success stopped about the same time that years started beginning with a 2.”
The Daily’s closure is also a reminder that the iPad, once thought of as the publishing world’s digital savior, is not a Holy Grail capable of “miraculously” delivering profits to media companies, Ingram said. “This is one more reinforcement that that’s not the case.”
Trevor Butterworth, who formerly covered technology for The Daily, wrote on his Facebook wall that the outlet’s run-of-the-mill content and lack of marketing contributed to its downfall. The Daily, he wrote, “added more average-reader content to a market saturated with free average-reader content.” Butterworth, now a contributor to The Daily Beast/Newsweek, added: “Its demise is a wake-up call for those who confuse cool technology with being cool - and those who think more of the sameness is going to produce a paying customer base for a mainstream media product.”
Still, for all the told-you-sos, few are celebrating the publication’s closure. Even Reuters media critic Jack Shafer’s cynical heart melted for a moment as he gave credit to Murdoch for “at least trying” to innovate.
Ingram saw a bright side, too: “I guess that I’m glad that Rupert has hundreds of millions of dollars to waste on experiments like this, because then we can all learn from them.”
Current staffers at The Daily will receive benefits through March and three months of pay. “They are treating everyone very well,” a current staffer told TPM. “Better than anyone could have really hoped or expected.” While many at The Daily hoped they would have a few more months to hang on, the closure didn’t come as a huge surprise. Over the summer, The Daily laid off 50 of its 170 employees. The staffer, who asked for anonymity to not jeopardize future employment with News Corp., added: “Everyone knew this was gonna come at some point.”
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com