The Daily didn’t fail because the iPad isn’t a viable publishing platform.
It didn’t fail because apps are inherently worse than websites for publications.
It didn’t fail because too few people want to pay for good content.
It didn’t fail for any technical implementation or design decision they made.
The Daily failed because what they chose to make, with its huge staffing costs, required far more than their 100,000 subscribers to be financially sustainable. And it didn’t attract more subscribers because what they chose to make was, itself, deeply flawed.
We all wrote this article when it launched nearly two years ago. Here was mine:
First, it’s weird to me, as a long-time internet-only news reader, to pay money for a bunch of content I don’t care about. More than half of each issue is sports news, entertainment gossip, ads, and little newspaper games (crosswords, Sudoku, horoscopes), and I need to buy all of that to get the news, editorials, and app reviews that I care about.
Bundling a bunch of stuff I don’t care about with the few pieces I want to read is the old-world model, when custom-targeted or on-demand news for each reader was infeasible. But in this century, I can go to a handful of websites whenever I want news, view the handful of stories that interest me, then move on. Flipping through a bunch of uninteresting-to-us content and ads was an annoyance of the old world, like blow-ins, that we tolerated because we had to — but now, we don’t.
These old-world annoyances would be easier to ignore if the content was great, but it’s not. It’s acceptable, for what it is: a very lightweight rundown of the previous day’s most mass-marketable news, with one or two editorials that usually leave me wanting more depth.
There’s no room in today’s market for publications like The Daily, and their heyday ended long before the iPad launched.
Well-established news sites are much better for news. Editorials and feature articles need to either be free, like most blogs, or consistently great and worth paying for, as in magazines such as The New Yorker or The Atlantic. But The Daily offered an overreaching mix of ineffective news coverage and unmemorable editorials and features. I’ve never seen anyone share a link to something in The Daily saying that we had to go read this great article that would make us want to subscribe. (In fact, I’ve simply never seen anyone post a link to anything in The Daily.)
The Daily required an extremely large staff to produce. And even with supposedly over 100,000 subscribers, netting them at least about $3 million per year plus ad revenue, that’s simply not enough to pay for a staff that large. (Not even close.)
Some writers are citing traits of my new iOS publication, The Magazine, as what The Daily should have been, but it’s not a fair comparison: we’re not doing the same things at all. The Magazine works because I chose a niche that can be served by a very small staff, I applied a very small staff to it, and it appeals to enough people to support the cost of a very small staff.
As The Magazine’s subscriber base has increased beyond the threshold of profitability, I’ve been reinvesting in it: I’ve raised the writer payment rate, hired an editor, and added more articles. This week’s issue will include the first illustration. Soon, I want to be able to fund more in-depth articles and even investigative pieces.
The Magazine costs less than The Daily and has far fewer subscribers (so far), but that’s fine: I can’t even imagine how I’d spend $3 million per year on it. But I’m also not trying to make an all-purpose news and editorial publication for everyone, every day.