iPad paper 'doomed by isolation'

It was too expensive, lacked editorial focus and, for a digital publication, was strangely cut off from the internet.

That is the obituary being written in real time through posts, tweets and online chats about The Daily, the first-of-its-kind iPad newspaper being shut down this month.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp said yesterday that The Daily would publish its final issue on December 15, less than two years after its January 2011 launch. The app has already been removed from Apple’s iTunes, where it once received lukewarm ratings.

The Daily had about 100,000 subscribers who paid either 99 cents a week or 40 dollars a year for its daily download of journalism tailored for touchscreens.

But that was not enough to sustain some 100 employees and millions in losses since its launch. At the time of its debut, News Corp said The Daily’s operating costs would amount to about half a million dollars a week, or around 26 million (£16.2m) a year.

When News Corp launched The Daily, it was touted as a bold experiment in new media. The company hired top-name journalists from other publications, such as the New York Post’s former Page Six editor Richard Johnson, and said it poured 30 million dollars (£18.7m) into the newspaper’s launch.

Now, the company is acknowledging that The Daily no longer has a place at News Corp, which is being split in two to separate its publishing enterprises from its TV and movie businesses.

Mr Murdoch said in a statement that News Corp “could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long-term”. Some employees are being hired in other parts of the company.

Critics say The Daily’s day-to-day mix of news, opinion and info-graphics was not that different from content available free on the internet. And despite a high-profile launch that drew lots of media attention, the publication failed to build a distinctive brand.

There was no ad campaign touting its coverage and stories were not accessible to non-subscribers, so it did not benefit from buzz that comes from social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Trevor Butterworth, who wrote a weekly column for The Daily called The Information Society, said the disconnect between the app and the broader internet curtailed its reach.

He was made redundant in July when the publication shrank from 170 workers to about 120. As part of the purge, The Daily cut its dedicated opinion section and dropped sports coverage in favour of using a feed from its News Corp sister outfit, Fox Sports.

“Stories weren’t widely shared or widely known,” said Mr Butterworth. “It felt like I was writing into the void.”

When it launched, The Daily was meant to take advantage of the explosion of tablet computer sales and the notion that people generally read on them in the morning or evening, like a magazine.

But each issue came in a giant file – sometimes 1 gigabyte large – and took 10 or 15 minutes to download over a broadband connection, unheard of for news apps, said Matt Haughey, the founder of MetaFilter.com, one of the first community blogs on the internet.

Because the stories were not linkable, The Daily did not benefit from new internet traffic that would have come from content aggregators like Flipboard and Tumblr.

“They ignored the obvious, which was the web,” Mr Haughey said.

Although many people are foregoing buying a laptop for the lightweight convenience of a tablet, the day has not yet arrived yet when all online access will come through apps rather than the web.

It may also have been a problem that News Corp launched The Daily from scratch into an environment where readers tend to gravitate towards trusted sources and established brands.

Without a unique coverage niche or a local monopoly, The Daily was caught between two worlds.

By being digital-only, the publication did not have a defined coverage area. It was “in competition with everybody and everything”, said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. Yet it failed to carve out its own niche in that larger universe, he says.

“Its lack of editorial focus played a role,” Mr Benton noted. “It was sort of a pleasant, middle-brow, slightly tabloidy mix of news and features. And there’s lots of that available for free online. I would imagine if The Daily were starting again now, they would invest more in establishing their brand identity early on.”

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