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The life and times of The Daily

It’s hard to argue that the launch of The Daily in early 2011 wasn’t a bold move. After all, these are digital times and what’s more digital than a tablet-only publication? Despite its initial fanfare, however, early reviews were far from glowing. So it wasn’t too surprising when News Corp. announced Monday that The Daily would cease publishing on Dec. 15. You might say the writing was on the wall.

From the beginning, The Daily was criticized for its limited content. Soon after it launched, David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group, noted that the most impressive thing the paper had going for it was its pictures, and many of those came from the Associated Press.

Six months after it launched, inVocus noted that Tech blogger Shane Nickerson called the paper “a complete failure of imagination.” In February, Poynter.org reported that although The Daily had reached 100,000 paying readers within a year, the paper needed 500,000 to be sustainable. Indeed, The Daily publisher Greg Clayman told Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman that the publication would probably need five to seven years to be profitable.

Apparently, they decided not to stick it out. It’s hard not to see why. inVocus reported last August that the publication lost $10 million within the first quarter, while key staffers exited the paper not long after it launched.

Nieman Journalism Lab posed a question to its Twitter followers the other day, asking why they thought The Daily had met its untimely demise. A number of responding tweets claimed the platform was the problem. Not enough people have iPads to support an iPad-only publication. Indeed, Poynter noted that at the beginning of January, 19 percent of U.S. adults, which is approximately 44 million, owned tablets. While that number is far from low, it doesn’t quite hit the 50 million iPad owners Rupert Murdoch was reportedly banking on. Meanwhile, other tweeters claimed content was the leading problem, or the entire way the newspaper was run had been the key issue. This included starting off with a staff of approximately 100.

Despite the paper’s digital foundations, other reports have claimed The Daily was too separated from the Internet, and that there was no linking culture so it didn’t benefit from story sharing. Meanwhile, the very fact that you had to pay for a publication that was still untested was also a deterrent to would-be readers.

“I’d like to say I’m surprised by the demise of The Daily, but to be honest I never really thought it had a chance to start with,” said Coates. “Why? Well first of all it was an iPad-only publication, which limited distribution to people with only Apple products. But nearly half of the people out there who own a computer or tablet or a phone aren’t buying Apple products. That’s a huge market share.” Meanwhile, it’s very possible The Daily was rushed to production because Steve Jobs’ health was ailing, he noted. “I really don’t believe they did the proper market research in order to be completely successful.”

Coates also noted The Daily wasn’t the one-stop shop it wanted to be, and that it resembled USA Today or the New York Post with pretty photos and graphics, but little in the way of actual news content. “Why did it fail? I believe The Daily never knew what it wanted to be from the very beginning. Was it entertainment or news? I could never tell.”

Of course all this comes as News Corp. is split into two, dividing its publishing and TV enterprises into two businesses. However, given its short life, The Daily seemed to have been doomed from the beginning. Could it have been successful if done differently? Nieman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Benton seems to think so: “The fact that an outlet with its problems could still generate 100,000 paying subscribers is a sign that an outlet with a sounder strategy, a more defined ambit, and a more realistic sense of scale could get even more,” he wrote in a recent article.

Coates believes it might be a few years, however, because people aren’t ready to commit to getting their news from one place. Regardless, The Daily was a bold digital venture and its short life will not be soon forgotten. In the months and years to follow, someone will eventually publish an iPad or tablet-centric newspaper again and maybe next time they’ll get it right.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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