Why Murdoch’s iOS Newspaper Is Already A Failure

Rupert Murdoch is a complicated and confused man. He clearly wants to make money and do what’s best for his print media moguls, yet he frequently appears to accomplish the exact opposite. So pardon my lack of excitement when I learned that Murdoch and Apple are teaming up to create a new breed of newspaper that is tailored to the iOS platform. I honestly believe this has failure written all over it for reasons of old and new.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The iPad was the beginning of a new dawn for the news industry: it was to give newspapers a unique digital platform from which to create and distribute digital content while generating revenue. Unfortunately, things haven’t panned out that way.

Revenues have been a continuing issue with newspapers on iOS, as a result of backwards thinking on the newspapers’ part and technical discrepancies. The publishing part of the equation has been handled only at a decent level. However, without the platform and content to support a digital version of a newspaper, all the hype will have been for naught. Apple has been making strides by now recently implementing a feature where users can pay for subscriptions to content; however, nothing Apple will do could possibly influence the backward thinking coming from Murdoch’s bunch.

Backwards Thinking

The backwards thinking that infects the print industry, with Rupert Murdoch being the poster child, has been deeply engrained. Changing this thinking will not be easy, and I don’t expect much to change when the “Daily” arrives this month. Quite a few within the publishing industry — like Murdoch — believes that if people want the news, they should be required to pay for it, just as many people did not too long ago (before the rise of the Internet). As we all know, however, this simply isn’t the world we live in today. Times change and businesses must adapt.

Nowadays, the barriers to gain access to news for the common consumer are almost nonexistent. Anyone with an Internet connection can access a world of information at their fingertips with the help of Google and the plethora of digital content on the Web. But another recent development has been the growth of social networks, which enable its users to share relevant information and news content with their peers — in fact, social networks, in many cases, are becoming the primary hubs for news aggregation and curation.

In today’s world, premium models have given way to freemium or ad-based models, where businesses give things away for free with the hope of attracting paying customers towards premium features or display advertising to its customers. It might not be as profitable as the traditional premium models of yesteryear, but something is better than nothing, right? Well this rings true especially for written content, as there is just so much of it out there.

But Murdoch and many within the newspaper industry are still living in the past. Admittedly, many have worked around these recent developments to create online websites, while others are completely oblivious to them. So they continue to institute backward-thinking methodologies that hurt the consumers, themselves, and their bottom lines. Instead of blaming themselves, they blame technology and people’s unwillingness to pay.

Missed Opportunities

There were several wake-up calls for the newspaper industry. Unfortunately, the industry was rarely there to answer. The biggest of them all was, of course, the Internet.

Before there was Craigslist, there were classified ads in newspapers. These were, in many cases, a huge money maker for the newspapers. However, Craigslist really put a dent into the industry’s wallet. The newspaper industry had no response, though, and they continued on as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Then the growth of broadband meant people had access to information at the speed of their fingers. Websites, forums, communication platforms, portals, search engines, display advertising, blogs, social networks, digital aggregation, and digital curation swooped in to take away the newspapers’ spotlight, but even though it took at least a decade for these things to grow to the point where they are now, the print industry still had no plan of action to deal with these changes. It was almost like nothing was changing in the world in their minds.

Cell phones, smart phones, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, and more were starting to take over, yet the print industry, for the most part, still remained pretty much the same. Sure, some of them finally gave in and created a website with pay walls, but it wasn’t enough. Their determination to remain a print-first publications was slowly eating away at their industry. It was too late.

Now, with the growth of tablet and smart-phone technologies, the newspapers have been presented, ironically, with more opportunities to create a new beginning. And what do they do? They screw it up all over again by sticking with the same old-school thinking that got them where they are in the first place! You can’t simply slap a bit of text and a few pictures within an application and expect it to sell like hot cakes any longer. Those days are long gone.

Show Us Something!

But people within the newspaper industry need to realize that people are willing to pay for the news, if it is genuinely worth it. However, writing about facts can only be but so profitable these days. So if a user can find essentially the same facts on another website for free, then there is a bit of an issue with charging users for it.

Users nowadays would probably pay only if they found the facts presented to be originally sourced from this newspaper (which is why the Wall Street Journal performs so well) or if they had something special to offer (like The New Yorker’s beautifully written and edited content). But most of everything we read these days is mere rehashes of already written content. People already have enough to deal with!

So if Murdoch wants to charge users for content, then he should have his newspapers bring something new and unique to the table. Create an experience that is so new, so mind blowing, and so incredible that it warrants being paid for. Create a newspaper for the iPad that gives users something unique and special that no others can have. If these users feel like they will get something that people can’t get for free elsewhere, I’m willing to bet that they would be willing to pay a decent amount to have it.

Unfortunately, this is simply wishful thinking on my part.

Will It Happen?

I’m not quite sure whether or not Rupert Murdoch has the understanding of consumers to create such a product that warrants consumers to open up their wallets. I’m sure there will be those who are curious, and who will purchase this “Daily” newspaper when it is slated for the iOS platform on January 17 (although the date has been constantly pushed back). I’m just not convinced it will generate as much money as Rupert Murdoch will have hoped.

But if Rupert Murdoch does change this mentality and does provide something unique for the iPad, I will be utterly shocked and proud. I will accept that maybe he has finally started to understand what he should have done years ago. I’m not betting my money on that, though.