Monday, December 10

Ending The Daily: Don't Blame The Tablets

There is plenty of speculation as to why Rupert Murdoch's The Daily folded, but don't fooled by some of it. Any contention that the tablet is to blame is a mistake. The medium wasn't the problem. It was the message. It was the business model. It was misunderstanding what consumers want from digital news.

For every failed newspaper-turned-news tablet, there are dozens of successes. And none of these successes are crippled by issues experienced by the News Corp. experiment, despite Felix Salmon outlining all the tablet troubles some news outlets are experiencing with tablet delivery.

Here are few of them. But most are fixable.

The most prominent issues with tablet native news, according to Columbia Journalism Review. 

• News applications are clunky, with most requiring a long download for every issue.
• Navigation is difficult and unintuitive, with pages less than dynamic and without a search.
• Archival issues abound, with most tablet editions being limited to single issue reads and no history.

But anyone who understands the native apps and the web a little more than the bold digital experiment by Murdoch won't be fooled into thinking that the tablet is at fault. All you have to do is flip over to Flipboard to get an idea of what can be done without the deep pockets News Corp. once had.

• News applications need to drip stories in a steady stream, not make standalone issues.
• Navigation is easy when the content is arranged by topic, letting readers prioritize content.
• Every great native app can built with archival content in mind, including related links.

While I haven't had an opportunity to fully review the free application process for Liquid [Hip], an alternative reviews site, I do know the benefits outweighed any issues. Thanks to the innovative partnering opportunity and programing ability of UppSite, converting web-based content to a native app isn't perfect but closing in on perfect.

The biggest advantage is that stories are delivered as they are published, making it faster to retrieve reviews than a browser. And while navigation still needs to be improved by allowing publishers to set major categories and listing the rest of any index as alphabetical (suggestions made by our firm), the potential already exists. Once it is complete, including a search, archived content isn't an issue.

While some people might note that web content ported to a native app lacks some media-rich dynamics that publishers want to take advantage of, it seems to me that it still makes the best blueprint. Content delivered one story at a time is better than trying to build editions. Dynamic content, ranging from videos to interactive features, can still be built in easy enough. And, if publishers are paying attention, then they might appreciate another trapping that The Daily exhibited. Weak content.

It wasn't that the content was weak per se, but the depth of reporting didn't justify the price. Native apps (or web news sites) need to do a better job balancing short-content appeal while still delivering the depth of reporting that used to set magazines and newspapers apart from the spoonful-sized stories that electronic (television and radio) provided. How do you do it?

Building a better news experience for people with mobile phones and tablets.

It's relatively painless, really. All publishers need to do is write an executive brief-like lead story (around 350 words) that opens up three to 10 in-depth stories or point-of-view pieces or dynamics (graphs, videos, etc.) that paint a complete picture (along with archival capabilities). Doing so creates the reader choice that most people crave — which is why they search for more content after spending 15 minutes or so with a post online.

So no, it wasn't the tablet that doomed The Daily, which was filled with surface content that couldn't justify a high subscription price. Like most failed digital products, it was the development team behind it focusing too much on developing something for a medium as opposed to people who use that medium. If they had done that, then The Daily would have been the best practice and not the pitfall to avoid. But no matter. Sooner or later somebody else will spend their time in the right place and finally get it right.
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