21 Comments

Summary:

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch has spent the past few years misunderstanding how the Internet works, railing against its most powerful features and failing to take advantage of its potential. The News Corp. founder’s new “iPad newspaper” idea sounds like yet another example of this unfortunate tendency.

Rupert Murdoch

If News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch and the Internet were friends on Facebook, their relationship status would say “it’s complicated.” While the billionaire media mogul no doubt realizes that the Internet has huge potential as a medium, he has spent the past few years failing repeatedly to take advantage of that potential, misunderstanding how the Internet works, railing against its most powerful features and doing everything he can to avoid using it properly. The latest in this parade of bad ideas is the iPad newspaper he is supposedly working on called “The Daily.”

The idea of a newspaper — or rather, a paperless news service — designed from the ground up for a device like the iPad is a good one. Instead of taking the existing structure of a newspaper, with its printing plants and rigid publishing schedules, and trying to adapt that to a digital medium, creating something designed specifically for that medium and for a great interactive device like the iPad makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, that’s not what Rupert Murdoch is doing, or at least not according to the reports we’ve heard so far.

One major flaw is telegraphed by the name of this new creature: “The Daily.” According to New York Times media writer David Carr, the staff Murdoch has put together at a cost of about $30 million or so will be creating content that will mostly be published once a day, just like traditional print newspapers are. Why? Good question. One of the most obvious features of Internet-based news is that it’s happening at all times, and coming from dozens of different sources, every minute of the day and night. Maybe stepping back from that has a certain value — but publishing once a day seems almost hopelessly antiquated, like a monthly newsmagazine.

Another major flaw, as Salon founder Scott Rosenberg and others have noted, is that because it’s solely a for-pay service, The Daily’s news will not really be part of the Internet at all — there will be no links to its content from outside the News Corp. venture because it will live behind a paywall (although the new publication will apparently have a website that “mirrors” some content to give readers a peek at what’s available). No sharing via Twitter, no posting links to Facebook, no blogging about the content — nothing that creates the kind of buzz and connections that a modern Internet media entity should be taking advantage of.

Contrast Rupert’s vision with the one put forward by Information Architects, the Swiss design firm that created a new iPad version of Zeit Online, a German news site. It isn’t an app at all, but a website redesigned specifically for the iPad, using HTML5 to give the site an app-style look and feel, while still using the Internet as its delivery system instead of Apple’s app platform. Since it’s freely available, links and sharing of content are built right in. Will some readers subscribe to Murdoch’s iPad paper anyway? Undoubtedly. But whether it will be enough to make it a viable business remains to be seen.

If all that wasn’t enough to make you pessimistic about The Daily’s chances, there’s Rupert Murdoch’s track record in digital ventures: After years of railing against Google “stealing” his news content for Google News, for example, the media mogul spent over a year and more than $30 million trying to build a competitor before finally killing it. He’s also said to be close to putting a bullet in Myspace, which has been both losing traffic and hemorrhaging money over the past year, thanks to Facebook. And a paywall attempt at News Corp. flagship The Times in London is either a gigantic failure or a small, qualified success, depending on whom you choose to believe.

The bottom line? Rupert Murdoch keeps fighting the Internet, and the Internet keeps on winning. The Daily may have some powerful friends in Steve Jobs and the iPad as a platform, but it sounds like the Internet is probably going to win this one too.

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  1. When is he going to learn that News Corp MUST adapt to the changing world of publication. The internet has been around for quite awhile, I’m surprised he’s taken such an awkward stance on the whole thing.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Andrew.

  2. Interesting post. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Who’s to say Rupert is a failure at the internet. He does have a rather big playground to experiment and hopefully find the formula that makes some will make money for his shareholders (his primary objective) and to continue to build his audience, which I highly doubt you are a member. Last time I checked, News Corp is making money hand over fist and content providers that supposedly ‘get it’, like the NY Times are hemorrhaging red ink. Perhaps Rubert will find the ideal mix after some very expensive trial and error, perhaps not. Until then, posts like this come off as petty sniping at best, completely valueless at worst. I think you should keep trying as well.

    1. Thanks, Peter — I will keep trying. And I hope Rupert does too :-)

  3. Suhit Anantula Monday, November 22, 2010

    I doubt if Murdoch does not get it.

    If you look at his numbers, he is talking about getting 800,000 subscribers who pay $1 a week. That’s your $30M for the start up costs.

    In the end somebody needs to pay for the news and I think it is better that Murdoch follows a model that creates value to shareholders and customers

    1. I agree, Suhit — 800,000 subscribers would be a good start at least. I frankly don’t think Rupert is going to get anywhere close to that.

  4. This will be a “success” but unlike MySpace and other digital ventures, Murdoch needs a real success here to push his media into the 21st century… flagging subscription models are going to cost them big-time in the coming years.

    Steve and Apple however, need nothing; They lose nothing by venturing forward here, and it could be similar to how Apple partnered with Motorola to push out the lame ROKR, that was dubbed a failure, while in secret creating the iPhone.

    1. That’s a good point, roofus — maybe Steve has a secret plan to remake the media industry, and this is part of it :-)

  5. Quote from Michael Wolff, author of The Man Who Owns the News, an authorised biography of Rupert Murdoch:

    “The thing that’s going on at News Corp right now is total, total desperation over this digital stuff.”

    Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/feb/14/myspace-news-corporation-owen-van-natta

    1. That fits with what I have heard from others with knowledge of News Corp. as well.

  6. This venture will probably be what private niche ~dailies of the future look like. Assuming it isn’t designed to support legacy infrastructure, it could be profitable. Carving out numerous niche markets could be an effective strategy. It won’t be easy, however, as there will be loads of free options around, many with competitive/superior content, and all of them highly discoverable/searchable.

  7. you write: One of the most obvious features of Internet-based news is that it’s happening at all times, and coming from dozens of different sources, every minute of the day and night.
    I say: High quality journalism that you wanna pay is not made live, instantly, every minute. I think the journalism industry is obliged to make quality journalism and not only superficial quick internet-news. I do hope that is what The Daily will give us.

  8. Mushtaq Hussain Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Rupert’s domain is the traditional news platforms i.e. paper, broadcasting. Broadcasting being the key word. Online and interactive is a different ballgame. It is not one way/dictatorial. This is the information age and promotes two way relationships.

    His handicap in this scenario is his personality and the surrounding culture. It is so old school and outdated that it should have gone out with the likes of Bush and company. But sadly he is a business man so we have to put up with him for a lot longer.

    If Rupert wants to know the answer to what the internet can do for him, he will have to answer a fundamental question.

    What has he done for the internet or anybody else for that matter? What makes him feel that he is so worthy of “making money” for the xenophobic, sensationalism that his journalists write upon his dictation and attempt to pass as “serious journalism”. Oh no we need Rupert’s “serious journalism” to feed us our daily mushroom food and pay for it too when we can get the same in over a hundred languages free. The world has been changing while he has been working hard to keep it the same. The only way he can fit is to change but..I don’t think his personality is geared for that. PS: I wouldn’t want all that seriousness anyway. Rupert lighten up. It’s a fun world. Have some fun.

  9. Reminds me of Godfather. You see parallels http://goo.gl/jKaQN ?

  10. While I share many of the concerns voiced around the execution I applaud the willingness to experiment on a large scale. At the very least the industry will clearly see what does and not work and it will spur on much needed competition and hopefully some new energy in a publishing sector that has not yet found an economically sustainable model in the digital world. The print revenue economics around the CPM model don’t work online so a range of revenue stream need to work together, advertising and sponsorships, paid subscriptions, micro transactions and a range of eCommerce solutions. This is a very challenging but also exciting period of transition from analog to digital.

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