If News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch and the Internet were friends on Facebook, their relationship status would say “it’s complicated.” While the billionaire media mogul no doub realizes that the Internet has huge potential as a medium, he has spent the past few years failing repeatedly to take advantage of that potential, misunderstanding how the Internet works, railing against its most powerful features and doing everything he can to avoid using it properly. The latest in this parade of bad ideas is the iPad newspaper he is supposedly working on called “The Daily.”
The idea of a newspaper — or rather, a paperless news service — that is designed from the ground up for a device like the iPad is a good one. Instead of taking the existing structure of a newspaper, with its printing plants and rigid publishing schedules, and trying to adapt that to a digital, always-on medium, creating something that is designed specifically for that medium, and for a tool like the iPad, makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, that’s not what Rupert Murdoch is creating, or at least not according to the reports we’ve heard so far.
One of the major flaws is telegraphed by the name of this new creature: “The Daily.” According to New York Times media writer David Carr, the staff that Murdoch has put together at a cost of about $30 million or so will be creating content that will mostly be published once a day, just like traditional print newspapers are. Why? Good question. One of the most obvious features of Internet-based news is that it is happening at all times, and from dozens of different sources, every minute of the day and night. Maybe stepping back from that has some value — but publishing once a day seems hopelessly antiquated, like a monthly newsmagazine.
Another major flaw, as Salon founder Scott Rosenberg and others have noted, is that because it is solely a for-pay service, The Daily’s news will not really be part of the Internet at all — there will be no links to its content from outside the News Corp. venture because it will live behind a paywall (although the new publication will apparently have a website that “mirrors” some content to give readers a peek at what is available). No sharing via Twitter, no posting links to Facebook, no blogging about the content — nothing that creates the kind of buzz and connections that a modern Internet media entity should be taking advantage of.
Contrast Rupert’s vision with the one put forward by Information Architects, the Swedish design firm that created the news iPad version of the German daily newspaper Die Zeit. It isn’t an app at all, but a brilliantly-designed iPad version of the paper’s website, which uses HTML5 to give the site an app-style look and feel, while still using the Internet as its delivery system instead of Apple’s app platform. Since it is freely available, links and sharing of content are built right in. Will some readers subscribe to Murdoch’s iPad paper anyway? Undoubtedly. But whether it will be enough to make it a viable business remains to be seen.
If all that wasn’t enough to make you pessimistic about The Daily’s chances, there’s Rupert Murdoch’s track record in digital ventures: after years of railing against Google “stealing” his news content for Google News, the media mogul spent over a year and more than $30 million trying to build a competitor before finally killing it. He is also said to be close to putting a bullet in Myspace, which has been both losing traffic and hemorrhaging money over the past year, thanks to Facebook. And a paywall attempt at News Corp. flagship The Times in London is either a gigantic failure or a small, qualified success, depending on whom you choose to believe.
The bottom line? Rupert Murdoch keeps fighting the Internet, and the Internet keeps on winning. The Daily may have some powerful friends in Steve Jobs and the iPad as a platform, but it sounds like the Internet is probably going to win this one too.