I recall my first visit to News International’s London HQ a few years ago. It takes several minutes to get through security at the vast complex, surrounded by barbed wire. Once in, I was struck by the sheer scale of the operation, and how only a tiny percentage of the floorspace was given to those creating the content (the bit, in my naivity, I thought of as important). Most of the site was devoted to printing, with articulated lorries jockeying for position as they lined up to take the newspapers off around the country.
Yesterday’s launch of The Daily gave us a glimpse of the future for news organisations, where the focus is on an editorial product, not manufacturing logistics. The distribution is electronic and through one platform only – the iPad. Newspapers have looked at salami slicing their old structures and realised that the numbers don’t stack up. In the long term this kind of radical product innovation is needed.
So will it work? The mantra in media circles is don’t bet against Murdoch, noting the success he has achieved with Pay-TV and to a lesser extent, with reinventing the newspaper business (in the UK certainly) in the 1980s. The Daily, he says, will need 1m paying subscribers to work, at the current (and attractive) price point. Given Forrester’s forecast for Tablet sales in the US, that may not be an unreasonable ask.
And although it will take time for the new product to bed in, the signs are promising. The first edition reflects a lot of thought about how content can be packaged and consumed to maximize the qualities of the iPad (and perhaps the real story here is the potential power of a relationship between Apple and a major publisher). The photography works well, for example, and there are some neat navigational tricks.
But a bit of analog thinking remains, not least in the title. The Daily? I remember when monthly magazines carried ‘news’. Now our needs have accelerated to the point where even daily news is not quick enough. Maybe the name doesn’t matter – the important thing is that the new product meets consumers’ needs (and the integration of Twitter feeds is a useful way of adding real-time content). Rupert Murdoch may have ink in his veins, but for all his previous reported scepticism about the digital future, could it be that once again he has leapfrogged his competitors with a brave attempt to define the future?