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The Daily Romp into Multimedia Content

Posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:13 AM

News Corporation's start-up could give us all a glimpse of where magazine editing is headed.

By William Dunkerley

So, you can edit. But do you do audio, video, and 360-degree photography? That's a question you may be asked on some future job interview if News Corporation's The Daily becomes the model for our future. The new launch promises readers a rich assortment of multimedia content. The concept of the publication also promises to remake the editorial office, as various new media presentation features become more central.

That's all to the good. Editors need to keep pace with the ever-emerging technologies for configuring and delivering content. If The Daily becomes a popular publication, it may serve to intensify reader demand for more up-to-date features from all the publications that they read. That could have a profound impact on how we staff our editorial offices and what skills are required.

There's some reason to believe, however, that the architects of The Daily may been more bedazzled by the new technologies than respondent to actual reader needs and interests. For example, number 3 on their list of The Daily's features is 360 degree photos. That feature certainly sounds appealing. But will it really rank in third place in terms of what will sustain reader interest in the publication? Time will tell whether The Daily is in tune with actual reader preferences, or just a publication over-embellished with bells and whistles.

Defusing Audience Focus

Most publications recruit readers based on attributes that are in consonance with the editorial focus. The Daily, however, will be on sale in the Apple iTunes App Store. That will make it easy for consumers to make impulse purchases of single copies and subscriptions, based on little understanding of a publication's focus. That's not a bad sale for Apple. But it may produce a disinterested or disgruntled reader for the publication. What's more, that reader may have little interest in the advertisers, too. Over time, that could make the publication less appealing to advertisers and result in a loss of pages or space.

Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

Apple plays a strong role in the concept of The Daily, and other publications that join in with an iPad app and App Store sales. The company sets limits on how much you can know about your readers. There's also an approval process to get your publication into the App Store. In all, some believe these factors constitute a loss of control for the publisher.

Google is now offering a competitive product to publishers that may not be quite so restrictive. But nonetheless, it inserts a big company with interests that may at times diverge from the interests of your publication, right between you and your readers.

All this leaves one wondering who is the customer and who is the vendor here. What's more, Yahoo has announced a tablet newsstand of its own. According to reports, it intends to gather content from its own website and create an assortment of digital publications aimed at the tablet computer users. Associated Press calls this an "attempt to lure advertisers away from print and broadcast media."

To me this seems to be pointing in the direction of the commoditization of content. Historically, magazines and newspapers, both print and online, have strived to customize content for readers. Now, a situation may be emerging wherein mega-companies seeking to control the means of distribution may regard content as a mere commodity, banking on impulse purchases instead of long-term reader satisfaction.

Some have suggested that this new tail-wags-dog relationship between publishers and their distribution vendors could spell war. Perhaps it should!

Will the iPad Last?

The Daily is a device-specific publication. Without an iPad, you can't read The Daily. In the future, versions may be offered for additional tablet devices. But, in any case, the tablet computer will be the substrate of The Daily. That raises the interesting question of how long the iPad, or the tablet-class of PDRs (portable digital readers) will be around. To date, paper and the ubiquitious computer screen have served as the substrates for print and digital publications. What will be the fate of The Daily and other such publications if tablet technology sometime is superseded by something else?

There is already a sign that the popularity of the iPad is waning as a substrate for magazines. During a period of triple-digit percentage growth in iPad sales, initial sales of digital magazines designed for the tablet computer have been plummeting.

Follow The Daily

We've focused on a number of possible pitfalls for The Daily. But the concept is certainly forward-looking and worth following closely. We all could learn a lot from its success or failure. Without question, The Daily could become a transformative publication in the evolution of our industry.

(Note: for a look at The Daily from a publisher's viewpoint, see "The Daily Quest for Online Profits" in the STRAT Newsletter.)

William Dunkerley is editor of Editors Only.

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