Summary:

The folks at News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS) have been cagey about nearly every number to do with The Daily from the beginning — except for the amou…

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The folks at News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS) have been cagey about nearly every number to do with The Daily from the beginning — except for the amount of the investment, $30 million in the last fiscal year and a run rate of nearly $500,000 a week. Today is no different as they declined to answer questions about a Bloomberg report that the nascent tablet tabloid is averaging about 120,000 weekly unique users.

That weekly average, which we’ve confirmed, includes paying subscribers and people giving it a test run on a two-week free trial. How many are paying subs (besides me)? We don’t have an exact number or know the split between weekly ($.99) and annual ($39.99), but paidContent has learned from sources familiar with The Daily that nearly two-thirds are paying.

True, that’s not close to the 500,000 subscribers Rupert Murdoch said it would take to make the Daily pay off and it won’t pay the bills for a staff of 100 putting out a paper seven days a week. Figuring 60 percent at the weekly rate — 72,000 times $.99 times 52 weeks would be about $3.7 million a year from subscriptions. The amount is likely lower than that given the discount for annual subs — and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) gets a cut.

If it can’t do much better, it likely won’t last. Pet projects, even those of the chairman and CEO, run out of good will eventually.

But it does show a willingness for subscribers to pay and if Murdoch and company are patient, it will find out whether that interest extends beyond a certain number of iPad users. The Daily also has been telling advertisers users put in 20-30 minutes a day with the app.

The glitches it ran into from the Feb. 2 launch kept the full subscription engine from kicking in until spring. That suggests the earliest signs of whether annual subscribers will renew would be spring 2012. Given that subscriptions are auto renew, people who don’t want it will have to cancel. We also don’t know the conversion rate from download to trial to paid. At paidContent 2011, Publisher Greg Clayman said it had been downloads hundreds of thousands of times; soon after, he refuted reports of only 5,000 paying subs by saying there “more” than that. This summer, the figure went to more than 1 million downloads.

The Daily, which has limited access online, has yet to mine some potential audiences. It only recently went international in the iTunes store and last week expanded beyond the iPad for the first time, adding a Facebook Social version last week. It has yet to launch an anticipated Android version, hampered, in part by development issues. As Bloomberg notes, the app is finally due next month. My understanding is there also are plans to make it available on the Kindle Fire although it’s not clear if it will be on board for the Nov. 15 launch of the new Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) tablet.

Plus advertisers remain interested. Bloomberg’s source is John Nitti, an EVP at media buyer Zenith Optimedia; the agency works with Daily sponsor Verizon. Nitti told Bloomberg 120,000n is a respectable figure and Verizon is sticking with it. New advertisers, presumably getting the same info, are in the pipeline. It’s also a promo vehicle for Fox movies and TV shows and has made some money from click-thru commerce.

The shelf life of other News Corp. digital experiments suggests the Daily isn’t likely to survive, no matter how respectable the numbers, unless it shows real signs it can get in the black.

Update: One small bit of perspective. On the eve of the Kindle Fire launch, Hearst and Conde Nast gave digital circulation updates: Hearst Magazine says it has exceeded 300,000 in paid distribution (subscriptions and single copy) for its digital editions across iTunes, B&N Nook Color and the Zinio Newsstand, while Condé Nast said it has 500,000 digital circulation, with a subscriber/authenticated print reader ratio of 50/50. That’s with established magazines and brands. That sheds a slightly different light on getting 72,000 or so from scratch.

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