OPINION19 December 2012

Stop the presses


The closure of The Daily raises plenty of questions, says Carbonview’s Keith Burtis. For instance, were the right questions asked about consumer behaviour in the early stages of development?

The Daily, News Corp’s attempt at a newspaper delivered via the iPad, has shut down operations after less than two years. The media giant founded by Rupert Murdoch placed a bet that the iPad as a platform would help save the business of daily news distribution. Unfortunately high investment burn rates, a lack of readership and execution errors meant he was wrong. Peter Ha, a Daily contributor, wrote in a post-mortem article on Gizmodo:

“None of us wanted to write or publish news that would be stale and cold the next day. But the publishing platform felt like it was held together with spit and chewing gum. Were there fixes that could’ve improved the situation? Sure. But those don’t matter anymore. The Daily had every chance of flourishing and succeeding, but operating independently of the internet as a whole was clearly a huge mistake.”

It’s always interesting to watch entrepreneurs sink money into new digital and physical endeavours only to see them fail in short order. And I can’t help but wonder whether they properly tested their new business concept. Heck, with the investment in money and staff Murdoch ploughed into The Daily you’d think he’d be playing off more than a hunch.

Today I’d like to share some questions that, if answered properly, might have shifted the decision to move forward with The Daily concept or – at the very least – improved its odds for success.

  • What are people’s typical use habits when on the iPad? How are they spending their time?
  • How are people consuming news?
  • Are people seeking out daily news content?
  • What is the typical audience for traditional long-form news content?
  • What percentage of that audience owns and actively uses an iPad for content consumption of any kind?
  • Was there a US-based audience hungry enough to pay for daily news content delivered direct to the iPad?
  • Is The Daily a compelling enough concept to create new habits, maintain and grow readership?
  • What mechanisms will be used to constantly update and iterate the user experience?
  • Is daily content enough or are people getting their news as it happens?

Certainly hindsight is 20/20 but let’s look at a typical consumer of daily news – my 65-year-old dad. Dad owns an iPad that he uses infrequently, consumes 25-plus hours of TV a week and still carries a flip phone with no mobile data access.

So in a quick and dirty interview I asked my father whether he’d be willing to take an iPad version of his current daily paper. Here’s the highlights of what he told me:

  • Chances are I won’t read it on the iPad – and I read daily news less and less at it is. 
  • Will they come up with a way to distribute coupons on the iPad?
  • I’d probably have difficulty navigating a digital version.
  • It’s likely I wouldn’t even know they had a version for the iPad.

The point here is that while testing the efficacy of a new business concept may seem basic to most, I believe that often the fundamentals are overlooked. Is it possible that Murdoch, in creating The Daily, was hoping to change the hearts and minds of consumers? Or is it possible that he failed to execute fundamental due diligence?

Without insider knowledge, who’s to say? But if you strategise, innovate, develop, build and iterate with quality insights your odds for success go up exponentially. If you’re making decisions based on gut feel or emotion your risk in wasted time and investment is multiplied.

Keith Burtis is director of marketing for Carbonview Research