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Summary:

News Corp.’s The Daily launched Feb. 2 with a two-week free trial sponsored by Verizon, ostensibly enough time to give potential subscribers…

Greg Clayman

News Corp.’s The Daily launched Feb. 2 with a two-week free trial sponsored by Verizon, ostensibly enough time to give potential subscribers a full taste. But launch glitches that stretched out for a week kept a lot of those potential subscribers from getting a good picture of the News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) iPad app. The first update came with extensions — and now Publisher Greg Clayman tells paidContent the free trial extensions will continue for several more weeks, at least.

The endpoint for the extended free trial has yet to be determined but a decision may come this week. (Given that users are still reporting frequent crashes and glitches after the Feb.9 update, they may want to wait for another iteration.) Verizon continues as the trial sponsor.

Once the shakedown period is over, new downloads will come with 14 days free before a subscription is required. The Daily runs 99 cents a week or $39.99 a year. The trial is particularly useful because the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) subscription process allows for cancellation of automatic renewals but not early cancellations with refunds.

Even with the free trial and glitches including crashed and molasses-slow load times, subscriptions started to sell as soon as The Daily went live. In an interview at The Daily‘s offices in News Corp.’s mid-Manhattan headquarters, Clayman wouldn’t say how many subscriptions sold the first day or since. He also won’t say how many times the app has been downloaded. (Update: I should have added earlier that Clayman said so far the response exceeds expectations.)

Why didn’t The Daily go public in beta like Hulu, the video JV that News Corp co-founded? Hulu was browser-based and launched as a free video portal distributing content from its equity stakeholders and other sources. The beta-launch cycle was reprised with Hulu+ last year.The Daily literally produces and publishes daily, sometimes with 100-page editions. But the biggest difference is browser versus iPad app. “There are no beta apps” in the iTunes store, says Clayman. Once an app is published in the iTunes App Store, it’s available to everyone. Before that, it requires getting a UDID code for each beta tester’s iPad, then installing it manually.

Again, Clayman was a little coy about the numbers but said the way it had to be handled kept the sampling very small. With an online beta, a publisher can scale like Hulu did — collecting emails and scaling up in increasing waves. The small private beta also lessened the possibility that test runs would make it into the public.”We’re very much under the press microscope and anything that went online, anything that came out … was immediately online.” (He referred to Damon Kiesow’s spotting of some examples in the code for The Daily‘s site.)

What caused the initial problems? “Stability issues,” says Clayman. “Basically a lot of usage that we hadn’t seen, a lot of people that were using it. We want to continue buffing it. I think everyone should. The best part of the interaction with our readers is going back and forth, getting a lot of feedback. We want to keep making it better.” As we talked, he took notes about various issues I raised — the way the Game Center icon pops up for Sudoku or the crossword puzzle without explanation (it’s only need to take part in a leaderboard), the lack of warning about what doesn’t work when a user is offline.

The Daily originally was slated to launch Jan.19 in San Francisco with Steve Jobs standing by Rupert Murdoch. Instead, a last-minute delay pushed it back to Feb.2; Jobs was already on medical leave so Eddy Cue did the launch honors in New York. Clayman was vague about the specific reason for the delay — my understanding at the time was a tech issue with the subscriptions in iTune — but said the delay helped. “The extra time that we had to build it was very important. We were the first subscription service and that took a minute to get right with Apple.”

Still, plans are already underway for an Android launch late next quarter; that could stretch to the second half of the year. It makes sense to develop simultaneously — but it would make little sense to go live before the iPad issues are ironed out.

  1. A Virtual Vacuum of News
    I can only speculate that the reported $30M budget was invested as follows: UI = $29.9M, News = $0.01M. Makes USA Today read like the The London Times. It’s “pretty”, but should appear in the “Games” category vs. “News”. I actually feel LESS informed after reading “The Daily”. After loading (loathing) this app on my iPad, I was immediately compelled to read the cereal box in front of me this morning for some actual useful information. The Daily may actually be capable of lowering it’s “readers” knowledge of world facts, news and generic information. It’s the first so-called news application that’s programmed to lower the IQ of it’s users. It should be registered as an “adult” application as it’s far to dangerous and toxic for young minds.

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  2. The Daily looks like a trashy magazine with content expense going on photographs/video rather than any decent writing! But hey, that’s probably what sells in the long run..

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  3. The Daily is the biggest disappointment in years. As both a News Corp. fan and lover of their NY Post and Wall Street Journal apps, I assumed this would be a terrific product; so much so that I foolishly paid for it from the start. Besides taking forever to download and then crashing more often than not, when it does actually load it is awful. Instead of the best of WSJ and NY Post; or best of People and the London Times it is the worst of all of the above. Bad at both ends of the spectrum- trash and journalism. What is more distressing, it is getting worse not better!

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  4. I wasn’t able to tolerate The Daily for the original two-week trial period. I tried to read it daily for the first four or five days. But, it took forever to load and crashed so often. And, each time they supposedly improved the app, it had to be deleted and reinstalled from scratch, something I’ve never seen in the App Store before. So, I deleted it from my iPad last week, assuming that would be permanent since I will not pay for it.

    Even when The Daily can actually be read the articles lack substance and don’t compensate with entertainment value.

    Not only am I a journalism junky, my first career was in print journalism for large dailies. Methinks the larger problem is with the news staff, starting with a managing editor who cares more about attitude than competent reporting.

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