July 31, 2012: The Daily, the world’s first iPad-only newspaper, lays off almost a third of its staff, signaling the demise of a bold publishing experiment.
The deep cuts — The Daily fired 50 of its 170 employees — affect mainly sports and editorial page staffers, although some production and design employees get the ax, too. The ominous move comes as News Corp places the iPad app “on watch” due to disappointing readership numbers.
When the iPad first burst onto the scene in early 2010, the tech-loving world was desperate to get hold of one. People also spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out exactly what the iPad would prove most useful for.
One obvious use: a news reader. Ahead of the iPad’s launch, Steve Jobs met with executives from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in an effort to get the news organizations on board for app development.
The first iPad newspaper: An innovative idea
The Daily went one step further. Rather than simply reconfiguring existing media giants for the iPad age, News Corp envisioned The Daily as a newspaper exclusively for Apple’s new tablet (although it later added support for both the Galaxy Tab and Facebook).
On paper, it was a great idea. The publishing industry had been suffering for years as the internet changed the way news got disseminated. However, the success of iTunes and the App Store — which proved customers would pay for high-quality content that was easy to access– opened up a new distribution model.
From a reader perspective, The Daily looked enticing. The iPad-only newspaper offered a mixture of traditional news layout with interactive elements, as well as localized information such as weather forecasts.
Rupert Murdoch funded The Daily to the tune of $30 million, with a budget of $500,000 per week. Subscriptions cost 99 cents per week. (News Corp. received 70 cents of that, along with any advertising it could sell.) At the time, The Daily was the first app allowed to offer recurring, rather than one-off, payments.
This preferential treatment possibly resulted from Jobs’ personal interest in the publication. He made numerous visits to the paper’s office in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
The Daily suffers major flaws
Unfortunately, The Daily didn’t work out as well as planned. Despite picking up more than 100,000 paid subscriptions, it lost around $30 million in its first year. Writing about it at the time of its February 2011 launch, Tidbits’ Adam C. Engs noted that the paper would need to hit roughly 715,000 paid subscribers simply to break even. It never came close.
The problems did not stop at pricing. The Daily lacked editorial focus and failed to offer an experience sufficiently different from what readers could find elsewhere for free.
Even worse, stories were not linkable because they appeared only in the app. This made it hard for readers to share news, stifling organic growth. Finally, issues of The Daily frequently clocked in at outrageously large file sizes. They could hit 1GB in size, taking 10 to 15 minutes to download for many users.
Ultimately, the experiment didn’t make it to the end of 2012. On December 3, News Corp announced that the world’s first iPad newspaper would cease operations as part of a reorganization of company assets. According to Murdoch, The Daily “could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long-term.”
The Daily: Not a cure-all for news biz’s problems
The news biz continues to struggle in the years since The Daily’s demise. The iPad did not prove to be the magic cure-all the traditional media hoped for. While The Daily serves as a prominent example of this disappointment, other magazine apps also failed to thrive.
Apple launched its Apple News aggregation app with iOS 9 in 2015. However, despite minor successes, it largely remains a disappointment as well.
Now that Apple launched its News+ service, there’s every chance the company could still become a publishing magnate — with the iPad as our news reader of choice.
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