Convincing someone to pay for news these days is a tough sell. Especially on the iPad where, via apps and a web browser, you can get an infinite, free supply of it. The Daily is the latest experiment by big media (and it doesn’t get any bigger than Rupert Murdoch) to get people to pay for their news. It’s a subscription-based, 7-days-a-week newspaper built from the ground up for the iPad that will cost $0.99 a week, or $39.99 a year for access.
Does The Daily warrant opening up your wallet? It’s getting there, and every day seems to get better. Much of the content is exclusive and original. Some of it is even useful (the apps section, the occasional fitness article). The graphic design and interactive features are attractive and cutting edge. The full-screen photos can be stunning. But The Daily also needs work in some crucial areas. There are the usual technical glitches (some people report repeated crashes—we always recommend restarting your iPad to fix app crashes). The content takes a while to load (a minute or more depending on your connection). The subject matter is a bit narrow for a general-topic newspaper (where are yesterday’s box scores? And no business news?). And some features needlessly complicate the app (the carousel, and a brief video introduction to every issue). But overall, The Daily is an attractive, informative, cutting-edge daily that provides at least a half hour’s worth of professional, magazine-quality content every day. There needs to be some fine-tuning, but the larger picture is that $39.99 a year for what is really a daily magazine is quite a bargain, considering what people pay for only 12 issues of other magazines a year.
The photography is stunning. The developers recognize that the iPad excels at displaying photos—there’s something about the picture-frame shape, bright screen, and handheld intimacy that makes the iPad the best photo viewer I’ve experienced. And they exploit it. Turn the iPad on its side and you can swipe through photos full screen (although this feature can be confusing, as the occasional text ends up in the mix). Turning back to portrait lets you return to normal reading mode. There are top-notch stunning photos too—just check out the ones coming out of Egypt right now.
The graphic design is top notch. Just about every article gets a magazine cover-like intro, with a compelling blend of photos, typography, and interactive features (video, expanding tap-to-read text boxes, and audio).
The content is original, sometimes exclusive. While not quite The New York Times, the quality of The Daily‘s content has noticeably improved since its first day. Yesterday was a fascinating article about plans to return to the moon by private businesses. A few days ago there was exclusive (and apparently controversial) video of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords discussing her iPad in her last interview before the Arizona shooting. Today there is an exclusive three-part interview of the Winkelvoss Twins (of The Social Network fame). Of course, because The Daily is owned by conservative businessman Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, WSJ, and hundreds of other newspapers and TV networks around the world, you’ll see a lot of 1-star reviews in the App Store. But that’s just the reality of the partisan landscape we live in.
The interactive ads are effective (for advertisers) and can be informative and entertaining (for readers). The full-page interactive ads in The Daily grab your attention like nothing short of a Super Bowl commercial. Advertisers will love how effective they are. For readers, they can be informative (watch the trailer for a new movie). Interactive ads on the iPad are so effective at grabbing readers’ attention, I wouldn’t be surprised to see iPad magazines and newspapers become much cheaper, or even free, once advertisers see how well they perform.
Other good stuff: It offers an intimate, lay-on-the couch reading experience, just like an old fashioned newspaper. There’s offline reading (load once and read it without an Internet connection later). The app features some audio versions of the stories. There are daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles (and the app connects to GameCenter to keep track of your scores). The interactive-content featurettes (turn the iPad sideways to learn more about the latest moon rovers!) can enhance content in an entertaining way when they aren’t too complicated or convoluted.
The content is not comprehensive enough for a newspaper. The literal million dollar question for The Daily is, can a general topic newspaper be profitable in an age of niche markets? But that question may be moot, as in its curent state, The Daily isn’t so much a newspaper as a daily magazine, like a blend of Time, People and Sports Illustrated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean there is a lack of focus for the editors. If The Daily is to be a general-topic newspaper, the coverage is not comprehensive enough. Recent news is limited to a few articles—there is no sense of getting a fix on the state of the world after reading an issue of The Daily. The sports section has no box score section (you can, however, tell the app your favorite teams and get daily box scores, recaps, and news). There is no business section.
The content disappears. The Daily only loads the current day’s newspaper. There is no way within the app to access previous day’s content if you miss it. If we pay for it, we should have access to it (note: a third-party website called The Daily: Indexed allows you to read all the articles in a browser). The app does have a clipboard where you can save and share articles for later reading.
The carousel sucks. The carousel is a cover flow-like feature for the content, allowing users to swipe through rotating thumbnail previews of the articles inside the app. Only it’s often the main source of technical issues and frustration. The thumbnails are pixelated. And thanks to a much more useful table of contents, the carousel is somewhat pointless and confuses me every time I open that app (how do I get out of the carousel view again?).
Daily editions load slow. For the first 5 seconds after launching the app, a pointless video animation tells you it’s The Daily. For the next minute and a half, a splash screen tells you the app is loading the content. Sometimes it does this even after you’ve already loaded the content earlier in the day. The waiting is not so bad if you’re curled up on the coach for a half-hour reading session. But not so great if you’re on the train and want to quickly consume an article.
The Daily features eye-catching graphic design, stunning photos, and plenty of professional, original content. And ultimately, it’s an entertaining read, although you’ll do more than just read. You’ll tap, swipe, watch, and listen too. Structurally, it feels more like a magazine than a newspaper, but that’s not a bad thing, and even goes far toward justifying its subscription price. The technical glitches need to be fixed. The confusing and pointless gee-whiz features like the carousel need to go. The editors need to find a cohesive personality. But I’m looking forward to seeing where the fine-tuning takes The Daily, which, at $39.99 for 365 magazine issues a year, is actually a bargain.