Why Did Murdoch's 'The Daily' Fail?



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Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced several big changes for the company last week. Among them, the closing of The Daily, a digital-only publication designed exclusively for tablets and smartphones. In a statement, Murdoch said "we could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long term." Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin speaks with NPR's David Folkenflik about why The Daily ultimately failed, and what it means for the modern media landscape.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. This week, a fledgling digital newspaper will shut down just a year or so after it launched with much fanfare and a very solid backer. The Daily was Rupert Murdoch's first digital-only publication, but the fact that it tried to replicate a traditional publication just on your handheld device appears to have been a major part of its undoing. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us from New York with the details. Hey, David.


MARTIN: OK. So, for those of us who didn't see this, what was The Daily like? What was its premise?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and there were a lot of us who didn't see it. The Daily's premise was this: Rupert Murdoch wanted to create - and it was said to be his actual idea - publication that was native to the tablet, that was going to be helping to define the news in the digital age. When you read it, it actually felt a lot like a reinvented version of how Time magazine original was. It had some original reporting. It had some summaries and some analyses of what was happening in the world and it had a fair amount of visual storytelling as well - taking advantage of the digital technology.

MARTIN: And this was also a subscription-based publication, right?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. You had to pay. And that was one of the defining features of it. You could really only experience it on the tablet. There wasn't an online version of it that you could go to and sample much of it, and you had to pay. Rupert Murdoch being a strong believer in the idea that he creates content, you pay for it.

MARTIN: So, what happened? Why did it fail so quickly, really?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, parts of this may be the execution. It was not necessarily an enormous reinvention of things that were already available. In addition, I think very compelling question is how people would stumble across and decide that they wanted to do this, when it was kept essentially in a walled garden behind this tablet pay wall. So, there were questions of execution, both technically, in terms of content but also about how you market this to people who aren't already experiencing it themselves.

MARTIN: OK. So, there's been a little bit of crowing from the online community at The Daily's failure. Is it fair to say that Rupert Murdoch may be losing his touch?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the crowing comes in part because there's a sensibility that things need to be shared, pay walls, you know, only work in small situations and that basically the web wants to be free. The reality is life is a little muddier than that. I think that actually Murdoch should get more credit than he does for trying what was reportedly a $30 million-a-year venture to find out what works natively to the tablet. The ways in which you can look at the question of, you know, is Rupert Murdoch losing his touch is he's had a really tough 18 months. He's announced that he's splitting the company in two. Part of that company is going to be the newspaper publishing company. The Daily was to be an element of that. But, you know, the New York Post is losing many tens of million dollars a year. It appears that Mr. Murdoch made a decision to make a concession by killing the Daily in order to help prop up some of the losses at some of these other properties. And all of this is a result to a great degree of the huge hacking scandal over in Britain a year and a half ago, which has led to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in closing of a quite profitable Sunday tabloid there. So, in some sense, one could say The Daily might well have reached this fate anyway, but it seems to have been greatly accelerated by troubles that have nothing to do with it.

MARTIN: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joined us from New York. David, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.