During the past week, my Twitter stream has been filled with various thoughts on the demise of News Corp’s (NWS) tablet-centric news app, The Daily (including my own). Some, perhaps in an effort to be provocative, have suggested that the end of The Daily signals the idea that tablet-based publishing itself has proven a failed model. Here are a few of those stories:
Felix Salmon on The impossibility of tablet-native journalism.
The failure of The Daily says little about the future of tablet publishing, and mostly tells the tale of a failed publishing initiative. Let’s take a look at what The Daily was:
A tablet-only (to start), paid subscription, consumer app, providing general news content, with a very high budget.
Now, let's break that down into its parts:
Tablet-only: By the end, The Daily had moved beyond tablets to include smartphone, and also had integrated the ability to share content via the web. But to start, it was a single-platform (iPad) product. And the fact that it was optimized for the iPad was both a strength and a weakness.
Paid subscription consumer news app: the good news is that we are seeing paid content take hold in various markets. But consumers are only willing to pay for content not perceived to be readily available for free elsewhere.
High budget: one of the challenges large companies have when trying to launch something new is that they bring with them high cost structures. Startups don’t dangle 7-figure salaries to attract talent, but large companies fall into an expense base that’s not sustainable. Oh, and The Daily was the only app to run a Super Bowl commercial.
Yet, despite that high cost structure, The Daily really only faced a challenge once News Corp split into two companies. As part of a single, diversified entertainment business, a $30m annual budget for the Daily was almost a rounding error, easily covered by box office proceeds for the movie Avatar in Poland. Not much to pay for a real-time R&D lab, whose learnings can be applied throughout the multi-billion dollar company. Yet, split off into a business already wracked by difficulties, it became an expensive luxury.
So, what lessons can we learn from The Dailly
Mobile First vs Tablet-Only: There’s a real difference between being Mobile First and being Tablet Only. The Daily became a walled garden, making it difficult to share content or to shift your reading from one platform to another.
In building digital products, it’s critical to understand user behavior. Will users skim your content on their mobile device during the morning commute, marking content to read on the desktop when they get to the office? Or, are they marking content during the day to read later on their tablet on the ride home? Do users need to share your content with peers? Particularly for b2b content, the need to shift from one platform to another is critical.
User Experience Matters: While The Daily ultimately failed in reaching their goal of a half-million paying subscribers to a consumer news product, they did exceed 100,000 paid subs. That’s pretty impressive considering the ubiquity of free news sources on tablets and the web. User engagement was high and they created many real fans. Rather than a boring “replica” app, the Daily created a compelling user experience, leveraging the iPad in ways few others have done.
Specialized, hard-to-find information beats generic news: This one almost goes unsaid, but while many companies are finding that users will continue to pay for information they can’t find elsewhere (particularly in b2b),there’s no appetite to pay for content where there is a viable free substitute. Editorial quality and a big marketing budget can’t overcome “good enough” free alternatives.
I’ll be exploring these and related issues this Thursday at the Specialized Information Publishers Association (“SIPA”) Digital Publishing and Marketing Institute conference in Miami.
SIPA members, by definition, should not face the problem of selling generic information to consumers. These companies offer niche products aimed at b2b markets. During this session, we’ll be exploring trends in mobile and tablet use, particularly among business users and explore how to develop an appropriate mobile and tablet strategy. We'll take a hands-on look at publishers who are doing it right (and a few who appear to be on a misguided path). I hope to see you there.