Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation yesterday launched The Daily iPad news app, a massive new venture reportedly costing $13 million dollars to develop. A premium-cost news service, it’s the first to employ Apple’s newly-introduced iTunes subscription system.
“The iPad demands that we completely re-imagine our craft,” said Murdoch, promising that the new digital news app will be as informative as it is visually engaging and interactive.
The launch has incredible significance on many fronts. Firstly, it represents the massive corporation’s first attempt at tailoring a news service to the tablet format, an area expanding so quickly that “50 million Americans are expected to own tablets in the next ten years” according to Murdoch. Cornering even a small percentage of that number of consumers could be hugely lucrative, particularly given the low costs of digital publishing; there are no traditional physical distribution channels or printing services to employ, with content the only major cost for News Corp.
This will have a positive knock on effect for the consumer, keeping prices of The Daily reasonably low. So far only available in the US, it costs $0.99 a week or $4.25 per month to subscribe, with annual options planned. That’s just 14 cents per 100-page daily issue.
However, the negation of printing and distribution channels will obviously have an adverse affect on those industries, particularly if The Daily proves so successful that other publishers follow suit.
“Our aim is for The Daily to be the indispensable source for news, information and entertainment… I’m convinced that in the tablet era, there’s room for a robust new voice… no paper, no multi-million dollar presses, no trucks! And we’re passing these savings on to the reader,” said Murdoch.
‘Sleepwalking into Oblivion’
As with News Corp’s introduction of The Times paywall last year, The Daily could be the first tablet application to begin to close off the previously free “open” nature of the majority of mobile news apps. It could be a damaging blow to the democratic nature of openly shared web content, which thanks to the iPad’s technophobic-friendly interface, had the potential to reach a much wider audience of web-illiterate users.
The Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger spoke last year of the dangers of paywalls. Many of his points translate well to the concerns people feel towards The Daily:
“Fleet Street is the birthplace of the tradition of a free press that spread around the world. There is an irreversible trend in society today which rather wonderfully continues what we as an industry started – here, in newspapers, in the UK.
“It’s not a ‘digital trend’. It’s a trend about how people are expressing themselves, about how societies will choose to organise themselves, about a new democracy of ideas and information, about changing notions of authority, about the releasing of individual creativity, about resisting the people who want to close down free speech.
“If we turn our back on all this and at the same time conclude that there is nothing to learn from it then, never mind business models, we could be sleepwalking into oblivion.
“If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world.”
So what does The Daily offer that so many free news sources on the iPad do not? Well for one the might of News Corporation’s overflowing coffers, meaning you’ll get a consistent level of editorial and technical expertise.
“In getting to this stage with the development, we’ve spent $13 million dollars, which we’ve written off,” said Murdoch.
“But it will be running at a cost of less than half a million dollars a week, and that’s without any subscribers or any advertising, so we’re very confident with the finances.”
This monetary freedom has lead to the development of a very slick user interface, with a scrolling carousel of stories navigated by touch control, as well as embedded video content and 360-degree photography.
However, we’ve become acclimatised now to receiving news 24 hours a day, for free, as it breaks. Will we really want to wait overnight for news we’ve already read elsewhere, and be charged for the pleasure?
Not only that, but a quick morning spent setting up an RSS reader will pump news directly to your desktop and smartphone, and perhaps most significantly, from numerous sources. The Daily will only ever tow News Corporation’s company line, whereas the web has thousands of articulate viewpoints offering their voices for free. Should we choose to subscribe to The Daily, will we gravitate near-exclusively to the source we’re putting our hard earned wages into, rather than explore wider points of view?
It may make sound business sense and offer a solid user experience, but The Daily app, if it proves successful, may end up being Murdoch’s back-door into killing off web-openness for good.