Publishers have been trying for a while now to find a way to survive the onslaught of free information available on the web. Many magazines and newspapers have folded, for good, and others have been able to survive as websites, and still others continue to straddle the line both in print and on the internet.
Some publishers see the new tablet craze as a potential way to survive, or better yet to reinvent themselves. Up to now the most popular attempt has come from a company called Zinio. Zinio offers up digital versions of many of the most popular magazines that were once exclusives to magazine racks. The price is lower than their print counterparts and the digital experience offers a slick and cool way to read magazines as well as the ability to carry many magazines on the go all inside a tablet. Media magnate Rupert Mrudoch has jumped into the this new frontier in a big way with his new daily digital newspaper called aptly enough, The Daily.
The Daily is a great experiment. The idea is to have a daily newspaper formatted exclusively for tablets, exclusively for iPad at this point. The sections of the digital paper include News, Sports, Apps, Games, Opinion, and more. Is this the future for traditional print publications? It’s too early to tell but it’s a gutsy half-million-dollar a week experiment worth watching. When you download the app you get two weeks of the service for free so why not be a part of the experiment? I signed up and here are my impressions of The Daily and its future.
At first blush The Daily is very slick looking and familiar to Apple users. Once the latest issue is downloaded it loads in a coverflow style where you can swipe through pages and see that categories the story on a given page is in. At the bottom of the screen there are buttons for each of the sections. Tapping a button resorts the coverflow to that section. Tapping on a page brings the article to full screen then you can read and swipe through pages. If you need your font bigger you can just pinch and zoom just like on the web. The interface is very slick and easy to get the hang of. If you want a more traditional magazine experience you can click the cover page and flip through the entire issue and even jump to articles from a table of contents.
The Daily also offers up the multimedia with video stories, photo galleries, and even the ability to leave audio comments on stories. Many of the stories are interactive in some way too. For example photos or charts are click able to enhance a story as you read it in some way. By clicking the comment button on a story you can post the story to Twitter or Facebook and hit the mic button to record a voice comment. If you share the article then non subscribers will be able to read it. So, technically if you shared out the entire issue then friends could get all of the content for free. I suspect there will be some sort of fix for this hole down the line. Some of the bigger stories in each issue have the option for text to speech too. It’s really not text to speech though. Someone has just read the story and you can click a headphones button to hear the story rather than read it. The audio is really crisp and clean and a nice option for some of the stories. So opening The Daily truly feels like an interactive experience rather than just reading a traditional newspaper. It’s much closer in feel and design to a magazine by the way.
The Daily even offers up games, horoscope, and location based weather and sports. All of this loads up every day you launch the app at a really smart price of .99 cents a week or $35 a year. The dollar a week thing is brilliant because it doesn’t take much for most people to feel like they’ve gotten a dollar’s worth of value from something. The big question is how many subscribers does The Daily need to be profitable at this price point? Also The App needs to convince people that there are benefits here to paying, even this small amount, for content that they can currently consume for free on the internet. In the old days people were accustomed to paying for voice but free blogs changed all of that a while ago. While The Daily will occasionally update with breaking news and let you know via push notification the app will live and die by its editorial and feature content. Educated and well written features from writers that build up a fan-base is the key to convincing consumers to fork over the bucks for The Daily. The biggest mistake made by The Daily is in its content style. Reading it feels like browsing something somewhere between The New Yorker and USA Today. So this content mixed with the newspaper style games makes the whole thing feel targeted to an older crowd and honestly the older crowd aren’t the ones that are going to make The Daily a success in its early days. The overall feel needs to be more modern, pop culture friendly, and overall just hip. Once the tech savvy have adopted The Daily then the older crowd and the Luddites will follow but it’s the younger tech friendly audience that needs to get the whole thing going. If The Daily is a success others will follow and in a way a reinvention of the internet through the tablet is what we’d be looking at. We’d be taking a step backwards from the open landscape of the web to a classic filtered informational experience. This is a bad thing for sure but it’s also a worst case scenario. If it is a success then it’s more likely to be a quick read or time killer for fans and the folks who really use the web for finding information from various non traditional sources will still do so. There are masses that just get their news, editorial content, and information from a Yahoo portal of just via a quick trip to cnn.com and The Daily would be perfect for them.
I can’t help but compare The Daily to the fantastic iPad app Flipboard. Flipboard takes all of your social network feeds and wraps them in a very slick user friendly magazine style interface. With Flipboard you get tons of control over who is providing news and information to you by simply choosing who you follow on Twitter and in Facebook. If you follow CNN on Twitter anytime they tweet an article the article is made available inside Flipboard. Oh there’s also the fact that Flipboard is free. Now if you truly break it down Flipboard is nothing more than a slick portal style interface where as The Daily provides original content to its readers. More on the importance of the original content later.
Do I love The Daily? No. Do I hate it? No. It’s a fascinating experiment that does many things right such as interactivity, multimedia, and price but it also misses the mark with its demographic. At this point I prefer the control of Flipboard to The Daily but I see potential in something like The Daily on a tablet where the less you have to type to find what you want the better. There are certain writers I follow wherever they write and if one of them were to write features for The Daily I’d be sold because the experience of using it is great and so is said content. So much has changed over the years in publishing in general but one thing that hasn’t is the fact that content is king. My two week trial is ending with The Daily but I’m interested enough in seeing what happens with it that I’m willing to drop a buck a week for a while and have it on my iPad to browse while I’m in the waiting room.