Guessing at Numbers for The Daily


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Though News Corp does not release subscription numbers for its iPad newspaper The Daily, the folks at The Nieman Journalism Lab, with help from PostRank, have come up with a clever proxy metric that might suggest the publication’s overall trends. By studying the number of Twitter posts that originate from the app (The Daily includes a tweet function on every article), they show that, at the very least, outbound social media activity has declined significantly, suggesting that app usage is down precipitously. There are all kinds of caveats to this method, to be sure, but it yields some interesting data, to say the least. Read the full report here.

On a side note: I’ve been mentally drafting a post about my thoughts on The Daily ever since it debuted, but I can’t seem to get around to hammering it out in full, so I may as well offer a sketch of my thoughts here, otherwise they may never see the light of day.

It’s true that The Daily qualifies as a form of experimentation, yes, but it doesn’t strike me as a very imaginative or a particularly adventurous form of experimentation. In fact, it’s about as uninspired an experiment as a publisher could undertake. To me, The Daily is a near perfect realization of exactly the idea that occurs to print editors every single time they get their hands on digital media for the first time, regardless of what the underlying technology might be: “Let’s make it just like what we know so well in print.” As a result I found it sadly lifeless and lacking in urgency. What a waste of US$30 million.

  1. Agree with JBagley. No use stating the obvious.

    The last thing established players will do is a Flipboard-like experience that bucks the trend around media consumption. Am certain its not a question of skill, there are smart people everywhere, but one of managing perceived risk. But critiques everywhere would do well to propose alternatives, instead of stating the obvious.

  2. I’m as shocked as as anyone, but I’ll say it: I kinda dig it. I find myself launching The Daily app more than I thought I would. For me, there’s something relaxing, even comforting, in being able to peruse an issue—and I think what it is is this very simple idea that it’s an “issue”—you reach a natural endpoint when you flip through it. That is to say, you can crack it open, grab a coffee, hit some Daily stories, and then move on with your day. Perhaps more to the point, apps like Flipboard and TweetMag—although interesting, and I would argue more aptly described as the forms of experimentation—are exhausting to me. They never end by virtue of the simple fact that they have firehoses of neverending data strapped to them—they become more of a chore than a moment of relaxation. Just me?

  3. Don’t know how much of an experiment it was if it cost US$30m.

    Perhaps they were happy to be unimaginative & give their regular readers who have an iPad a consistent experience

  4. Me too, jkm. I enjoy endless browsing and information through various portals, but sometimes I just want to read a magazine or go from start to finish in a closed universe. The only things that bug me are, paying for the Daily to choose the news for me (I’ll still have to go on my own appointed rounds); and, they supposedly add over 100 new pages per day. Yikes. Paying for that–even though it’s only .99 cents per week–means I feel the obligation to read it all hanging over my head all the time. The same way you can’t bring yourself to throw out a 2-year-old issue of Wired or Esquire because you still haven’t read everything in it.

  5. @JBagley

    Apologies (since I have nothing constructive to add), but where does this tendency for everyone to say ‘would of’ instead of ‘would have’ or perhaps ‘would’ve’

  6. At least they’re not charging what the times thinks a digital version of their rag is worth.

  7. JKM,

    I completely agree. You can argue the content if you want, but the Daily nailed the experience. I look forward to it each day as well. To say that it’s just like print is way off. The images, and the way the are presented, have an impact on me like nonother publication. They are alive, not static. I’m not sure what Gruber issue is either.

  8. Wow, Phil’s ‘guardian’ web site is exactly what I DO NOT want in an iPad newspaper. That’s nothing more than status articles turned into HTML. Night as well just make a PDF. Aweful.

  9. Let me take a stab at criticizing The Daily in a slightly more meaningful way; but this isn’t a well-thought-out argument, so I may miss my mark.

    First off, I think it’s odd to compare The Daily to something like Flipboard. Flipboard is not a publication. It has no editors. If it’s changing anything, it’s how we consume user-generated media, which is exactly what The Daily is not. (But I don’t totally understand the appeal of Flipboard, so perhaps there’s more to it than this.)

    The Daily follows the publishing model that Rupert Murdoch knows best. Which is to say, it hires writers; it has editors to supervise and organize what the writers are creating; it has designers who lay everything out attractively. It has a certain level of professionalism to it, and it creates a lot of content, and, as JKM said, there’s something satisfying to reading something which is *finished* — I love RSS, but it can be dissatisfying sometimes knowing that it might update every half hour, or every fifteen minutes, and I’ll never had a natural moment where I put down my reading and move on to something else.

    So the problem is not that The Daily is a new-media newspaper poorly executed, or that there aren’t advantages to how it does things. I think the problem is that while The Daily emulates an old format very well, and even updates that format to take advantage of modern technology, it doesn’t add anything *meaningful* to what we’ve already got. Its articles are not of a particularly impressive quality. You could find bloggers who write better about every single subject The Daily covers (and some of its best writers are bloggers who write for The Daily on the side). And it’s simply unimaginative. The people who made it didn’t sit down and ask themselves: “How can we use all our writers and editors and designers to make content that’s never seen a major publication before?” Instead they asked how they could bring as much of the existing system into play as possible.

    If I’ve only ever gotten my news from papers and television, maybe The Daily would seem really cool. But anybody who’s grown up reading and searching or content online knows just how lacking this release is.

    And it’s really easy to imagine how they could have done things better, if they’d tried to conform their publication to the Internet’s fault lines rather than those of print media. Fewer writers writing pithy analyses of Justin Bieber’s haircut or of “novelty” paper articles that cover subjects that just aren’t interesting. Maybe you get a single writer/editor to discover and round up all of those sorts of stories to break in a single day, and write a single feature on all these interesting stories. Or you get another writer/editor team to cover certain stories by following them all day as they break in real life/in the blogosphere, and then writing a metanarrative that I can read if I don’t spend my whole life reading blogs, but which informs me of all the major events/pieces of writing covering the day. Then you hire a series of opinion columnists who’re given a lot more freedom to write in-depth and at length, and produce content which is truly insightful and valuable.

  10. I mean, looking at The Daily’s opinion page right now we get such fantastic insight into Al Jazeera as:

    “The lesson here is that revolutions of all kinds have both short and long tails. Social media still fascinate because of their novelty. But today we’re looking at a case in which the revolution has been televised, to historical, transformative effect.”

    Is that really valuable? I could point to blog posts and magazine articles that say MUCH more interesting things. And The Daily could point to them too. So why not have one person link to all those interesting things, and then pay some journalists to write really out-of-the-park pieces? We’re dealing with hypertext. There’s no need to write fifty useless articles that summarize what everybody else has already summarized when you could have one person fire off links to those places and let everybody else focus on making things meaningful.

    News Corporation has enough money that they could finance something really incredible. Imagine a publication that lets itself be inspired by the best of the web rather than by the middlemen of print. A paper that sometimes reads like Gruber’s Linked List, and other times like a longform essay, and other times like a series of clever, snarky tweets about things. That sometimes has livestreaming video, and other times has photojournalist reporting, and other times just has a guy who knows exactly what he’s talking about and has been given the room to talk about it.

    What The Daily doesn’t add is meaning to its content beyond the lowest level of “keeping me informed”. It doesn’t teach me anything I couldn’t learn with five minutes on a Gawker Media site. That’s bad. Maybe for Internet newbies it’s a step up from what they’ve got, but I don’t want the first dominant publication on the iPad to be one that maintains the status quo from TV and newspapers. That’s a really low goddamn bar! It’s possible to release a publication that actually starts interesting conversations, makes interesting reports, writes about things that gets its audience to think. And because we’re dealing with something digital and formless, the editors and designers are free to construct new innovative approaches to everything that comes their way.

    What we’re getting is something insubstantial. And we’re getting it from somebody who’s based his entire media empire on pushing insubstantiality like it was important. So if this wasn’t a Murdoch paper I’d still find it pretty uninspired and uninteresting; because he’s put his name on it, I both find it uninspired and perhaps sinister — sinister because this is a digital medium that allows for unprecedented creativity and freedom, and because The Daily seems to be teaching people that you shouldn’t expect much more than the garbage that we get everywhere else.

  11. I’m subscripted to two major newspapers in the Netherlands, now also published on iPad. Before that I was a longtime reader of both printed newspapers. I’m very happy with the fact that the iPad versions are almost look-alikes of the printed paper. I know these papers through and through, there’s no need to learn a new orientational map: I know what where to expect and mostly from whome. I like that.
    Every now and then there is a video or some extra photo’s and, thank God, no additional multimedia.

  12. I take no issue with Khoi stating his being underwhelmed with The Daily; it’s a fair observation, one I share, and needn’t necessarily be followed up with ways to improve it. The Daily has tons of money and resources to help them do that.

    For me, most conversations around The Daily deal with interface, UX, presentation…as a UX professional, all of this is interesting to me. But what I find an area of real concern is the content: it just isn’t that good. Perhaps now that the Times has put up a relatively complex and expensive paywall, this will help The Daily’s numbers, but that won’t improve its content.

  13. I have to say I find reading the Daily to be one of my favorite morning activities. The journalism isn’t quite on par with what I typically read, but as others have stated: There is a beginning and an end. I also appreciate that somebody picks the news for me. Otherwise I tend to only read articles that are of interest to me, which probably isn’t good for staying informed.

    The interface gets a lot of flack, but I’m not sure why. If feels exactly like reading a magazine, only much more functional (I’ve never seen somebody pick up a magazine and not understand how to use it). I think techies find it underwhelming because they know what is possible with programs like flip-board, but these programs require you to actively participate in the news gathering process. Some people just want to read.

  14. There’s been a lot of commenting by the digital based tech press about how “print guys” just don’t get it. Each successive attempt by an old media news outlet to bring actual journalism to a digital medium is met with derision.

    But frankly, I haven’t seen any “new media guys” come up with a format that’s any better at delivering quality journalism than the good old fashioned newspaper.

    I’m not saying The Daily is quality journalism, but at the very least it’s edited and curated. So right off the bat, it’s better than the vast majority of new media news outlets.

  15. I guarantee you, if the overall content were of a higher quality, we probably wouldn’t be having this debate. Form and function will always change and evolve, but good, solid, quality content will always keep people coming back. The delivery mechanism will (and should!) always come second to content.

  16. “Let’s make it just like what we know so well in print.”

    I think this is an excellent insight re the way the corporate mindset works. Had this been more of a two-hackers-in-a-garage type of venture, the results might have been very different. But its gestation came about in the bowels of corporate America. No matter how ‘innovative’ people thus employed like to believe they are, if they truly were innovative at a gut level – they’d BE those two guys in a garage. Rather than holding down nice, ‘safe’ (whatever THAT means) corporate jobs.

    You know what – The Daily may survive. (Unless Murdoch gets tired of it.) But somewhere out there, someone is putting together The Real Deal. The true, next-wave, tablet-centric ‘newspaper’. It’ll clean The Daily’s clock, just like Google wiped out Inktomi/Yahoo in search.

    You’ll know it when you see it. Everyone will. It’ll be HUGE.

  17. So, Khoi, you think that The Daily needs more sizzle? More video with MTV-like quick cuts? A techno-trance soundtrack plus blinky things to hold your attention?

    Or would you prefer something more like the CNN app? Live updates, video, breaking news. More immediacy. Less thesaurus-intensive journalism with more news reporting?

    Fine. I get it. But then how do you explain the popularity of the Kindle and the Kindle iOS app? Nothing fancy there. Just text to read. In fact, it is exactly what you describe as “…sadly lifeless and lacking in urgency…”

    Maybe Steve Jobs was right in saying that “people don’t read any more.” They’re too busy tweeting. And blogging, obviously.

  18. @ Mister Snitch re: “The true, next-wave, tablet-centric Љnewspaper’. It’ll clean The Daily’s clock, just like Google wiped out Inktomi/Yahoo in search.”

    Right. Looking forward to that. Not holding my breath.

    Google won the search battle because it has (or had) the best results. Not because of an ultra-cool UI design. Google’s search page is very simple. Their other software has a generic-aisle-at-the-supermarket look and feel to it as well. And just look how popular all of that is.

    Are you seriously saying that two guys in a garage will come up with an app that will crush The Daily just because it is more tablet-centric? Do you even know what ‘tablet-centric’ means?

    Does tablet-centricity require a flashy design? Is cutting-edge design more important than solid content? Have we become that shallow?

    Or do you really mean tablet-exclusivity? As in providing really great content that is only available on a tablet app? I would say that the latter is the way to crush the old-school print media as well as the old-school tablet news apps.

  19. Folks, I’m closing down this comment thread. I hadn’t intended that this post would open up a general debate on The Daily or the topic of tablet content apps in general, and I feel like it’s straying off course. More to the point, there have been a lot of snarky and/or mean-spirited comments here, which I don’t enjoy hosting at all. I’ll write more about this topic in the near future, and will try and set the groundwork for a more constructive debate then. Thanks to those who read this and also to those who tried to post thoughtful remarks.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.