Clayman: The Daily’s Free Trial Run Will Continue

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.

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