The Daily Is Interesting, But Is It the Future of Newspapers?

There’s been a lot of pre-launch interest in Rupert Murdoch’s new iPad “newspaper” The Daily. This is partly because the News Corp. (s nws) founder is known for making ambitious bets on new technology — even if they don’t always work out, as he found with MySpace — and also because Apple (s aapl) was a key partner, and used the News app to launch its new subscription model for content (it costs 99 cents a week or $39 for a year).

So does The Daily live up to its billing? Is it the future of newspapers? Not really. It does some interesting things, but it also does some very confusing things, particularly around sharing content. And much of it, apart from some bells and whistles, consists of fairly humdrum day-old stories that you might read in, well…a regular old printed newspaper.

The first clue to what you get with The Daily, as more than one person has noted, is in the name itself. It is published more or less just like a regular newspaper, in the sense that the bulk of the content is produced and then published to the app once a day. Although News Corp. made a point of noting at its launch event that the app will be updated throughout the day as news breaks, there was no sign of that happening while I used it for most of the day on Wednesday, and that was while riots were still breaking out in Cairo.

Even though Twitter content appeared in a box in one of the stories (a profile of Rihanna) and had live links, the actual tweets themselves were almost 12 hours old — even after the app updated itself and said it was downloading a new version of the paper.

It’s like a newspaper…but on the iPad!

The result is that you get something that feels very much like a newspaper, with stories about things that happened yesterday. And while you can share stories via Facebook and Twitter, none of the pieces contain any links to anything on the web, making the app feel very much like similar apps from print publications like the New York Times, Esquire and Wired — disconnected from the Internet in a lot of ways. There are live links in Twitter streams in stories (particularly the customizable sports section, which lets you follow teams), and there is a small section of links called “What We’re Reading,” but other than that there isn’t a whole lot of linking going on at all.

There’s also no way to contact the writers or interact with them in any way, as Salon founder Scott Rosenberg noted, apart from posting a comment (which you can also do via audio, an unusual choice).

The general web user can’t get to any articles on The Daily’s website. But when you share a link to a story in the Daily via Facebook or Twitter, people can click through and read it on the site — a “social media passthrough” that the New York Times is also reportedly building into its upcoming web paywall. But with The Daily, when you click through to read the piece, you get what amounts to a screenshot of the app page — an image, rather than text. With some stories, you also get a large warning, complete with a big exclamation mark, that says the story is “missing content available only in The Daily iPad app.”

All of that aside, the biggest issue with The Daily is that even when you share a story, there is little that might encourage anyone to cough up the money to subscribe (a Columbia Journalism Review editor called it “a general-interest publication that is not generally interesting” and added that “great design will not trump lackluster content”). In the inaugural version, there were a couple of features that were worth reading, but they didn’t add much to similar stories that have appeared elsewhere for free. And a surprising amount of what appeared in the app — once you got past all the videos, most of which were devoted to advertising, and the interactive Sudoku and crossword puzzles — was run-of-the-mill news briefs that you might see in any newspaper such as USA Today.

If the content is ho-hum, what are users paying for?

Much of the pre-launch promotion of The Daily suggested that it was going to focus on the content in a way that many newspapers don’t, and that the $30 million or so Rupert Murdoch was spending on the project indicated there would be a higher level of quality. But while the app is well designed and the articles and photos are nice to look at, there isn’t a whole lot on the content side that makes it any better than newspapers that can already be read for free — and whose links can be shared and read without the bizarre restrictions that The Daily has invented to try and convince people to pay for it.

David Weidner of WSJ’s MarketWatch said that “the pricing is right,” and that $40 a year made more sense than $240 a year for the New York Times, and it’s true that the low price may get some to sign up — but the bigger question is, how many?


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