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February 18, 2011

Hear that? That’s the sound of The Daily’s Clock of Life ticking down to zero. Because the free subscriptions are over. Now readers have to start ponying up for their daily fix of the first iPad newspaper. (Correction – While this post was published after The Daily’s originally had said it would begin charging, it actually won”t start charging until late March).

I know. It sounds a lot like flushing to me too.

How many regular subscribers does The Daily need? Estimates put that at about 200,000 people. (For more on this see my earlier post).

How many will it get? I’d guesstimate between 10,000-30,000. Honestly I’d be surprised if they had 200,000 free downloads.

(Since I’m in NZ I haven’t been able to download the app itself – does anyone know if the subscription starts up automatically through your iTunes account after the free period ends, or you have to confirm you want to pay?)

The Daily’s fails because of its content, which is too generic and tabloidy to lure iPad owners.

All the fancy technology and whiz-bang graphics and money in the world can’t solve The Daily’s content dilemma. There just isn’t enough unique, high-value content out there for a paid daily paper competing with free websites. The content it does have is either already published elsewhere, unique in only specific minor details (with the main thrust published elsewhere), or just not that interesting.

The articles may be not be wire copy, but from what I’ve seen, they might as well be.

Add to all this the lack of truly breaking news – when Mubarak stepped down, I doubt many people rushed to The Daily to find out more. Even if The Daily breaks a story, how long before a free competitor has the gist, even if it’s a rewrite quoting from The Daily? But that’s academic really. The Daily hasn’t had any scoops yet that would set it apart.

Unless you count, oh I don’t know, dog shows, celebrity kids, and crimes against shoe-trees.

A leaked memo from The Daily’s editor urges reporters to go out and find the stories that will compel people to download the app.

“Find me an amazing human story at a trial the rest of the media is missing. Find me a school district where the battle over reform is being fought and tell the human tales. Find a town that is going to be unincorporated because it’s broke. Find me a story of corruption and malfeasance in a state capitol that no one has found. Find me something new, different, exclusive and awesome. Find me the oldest dog in America, or the richest man in South Dakota. Force the new White House press secretary to download The Daily for the first time because everyone at the gaggle is asking about a story we broke.”

If you think that sounds desperate, you’re not alone. Old canines aside, they’re going to have a hard time finding those stories before the local newspapers and other media orgs also chasing them down (and usually offering them up for free).

Besides, there’s already a free app doing US national news (USA Today’s). And it isn’t as tabloidy.

Add to all that an editorial stance and style that alienates many affluent East and West coasters, and you’ve got a paper already on life support. It’ll hang around for a year or two, hoping that the growth in tablets will see audience gains, but the paper will never break even in its current form.

I keep calling The Daily a paper. It’s not of course, there’s no physical print copy. But it is a newspaper in its philosophy. It’s meant to be a daily paper for people who are nostalgic for their daily paper, but want it in a more convenient form now they’ve got their iPad. It’s very much looking to people who already prefer a paper to the more chaotic, expansive world of the internet. It even had a front page.

News Corp identified the problem – media orgs aren’t making enough money online to finance good journalism – but mucked up the solution something terrible.

When a company faces a drastic cut in revenues, it can either grow revenues or cut costs. Rupert Murdoch favours the former. He tried to shoehorn a newspaper’s business model into the iPad like the internet had never been invented.

An iPad news app updated daily isn’t an inherently silly idea. Stats show that iPad use peaks in for reading news articles in the morning and evening. During the day, people are at work in front of their computers. A daily or twice-daily publication summing up all the interesting events from around the world would find some use. But not as a paid app, because this type of content aggregation is already being done well by free apps like Flipboard.

To make a paid app work in a world with so much free, good content, it really has to have great content that can’t be sourced elsewhere, or ripped off and summarised on the Huffington Post.  Longer form investigative pieces, insightful analysis, that sort of thing. That’s what The Daily’s editor in chief should be after. Even if they do break news, it’ll be what, once or twice a week tops? There aren’t that many state capitols mired in corruption (that we don’t already know about).

There’s only one oldest dog in America.

That approach is not enough to make people pay, no matter how snazzy your graphics are.

How would you fix The Daily? Can it be fixed? I’ll write up my solution in a few days time, but post or link to yours below.

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