Former Telegraph digital publisher Tim Rowell looks at what went wrong for Rupert Murdoch's iPad newspaper The Daily - and explains why Trinity Mirror won't make the same mistakes
The clearest sign that the writing was on the wall for 'The Daily' came in August of this year. Alongside cutting 30 staff out of a 120 strong workforce, News Corp announced that "The Daily now supports only portrait mode, though videos can still be viewed in landscape". A small detail but a revealing one.
iPad apps can be very expensive to build but despite the many articles stating the contrary, I very much doubt that the Daily's iPad app itself cost many millions to develop. The Daily had some unique (for the time) features and undoubted polish but the much-mooted $30 million figure would have been the budget to run the newsroom.
The reality is that well-thought through iPad apps are templates into which content has be poured each time a new edition is needed. And this is the stark lesson to be learned from The Daily. Edition-based native iPad apps can be expensive to build but they are far more likely to be very, very expensive to run. By run, I mean the continuous human cost of daily production: editors, picture editors, sub-editors and the associated technical costs.
To those of us working in the industry, it's hardly a secret that the main, serious news apps have large iPad production teams. It can require a team of up to 10 people, working the night shift, to curate the next day's edition - cutting pictures, subbing copy, laying out pages, crafting headlines. In other words, everything that one needs to do for a print edition. The great irony is that this is 'content' (dreadful phrase, I wish the industry would think of some other term) that has already been produced for the newspaper and it is being produced again for the web and here it is again being 'produced' for an iPad edition.
The switch to 'portrait only' by The Daily was a means by which to trim these production costs. If only one layout is required then staffing costs could be reduced. The publication that was, in a rare show of product endorsement, actively supported by Apple was breaking one of Apple's fundamental rules - "As much as possible, your app should encourage people to interact with iPad from any side by providing a great experience in all orientations".
I imagine it was a pretty easy decision for Rupert Murdoch and his executives to shut down the operation from the 15th Dec. Subscriptions were far lower than hoped, production and editorial costs far too high and the iPad advertising market has yet to find its feet. As a tablet-only operation, 'The Daily' was a 'bold experiment' but one that was clearly not going to work.
Murdoch once said that "you should bury your mistakes" and this mistake will be forgotten very quickly.
Against this backdrop, Trinity Mirror launched their iPad app yesterday. Unashamedly print in approach - the app houses a PDF replica of the The Mirror newspaper. There are elements of interactivity - a crossword, video and links to live content (although fairly hidden) but it is a PDF of the print edition. It'll get criticised by the digerati but the key is that it won't cost The Mirror much to produce each day. Here's the thing, they have ripped up the accepted rulebook and decided to go completely free on weekdays with no weekend editions. The only concession is that readers have to take out a free subscription via Apple (a means by which to get readers email address and contact details).
Now, where's the business model in that? Well, their ABC numbers will be boosted by these free subscribers, the advertising sales team will be able to sell ads across print and iPad and, placed within a market where everyone else is charging for content, The Mirror may have just stolen a march on its direct competitors.
Tim Rowell worked for the Telegraph Media Group for five years, first as digital publisher of Telegraph.co.uk and then leading the development of the group's mobile products for iPad, iPhone and Android as The Telegraph's director, mobile product development. From The Telegraph, Tim joined Tigerspike where he worked with Al Jazeera, The Economist, Haaretz, Emirates and American Express - helping them to develop and enhance their mobile product strategies. Tim is the MD & co-founder of The Michwell Group, which builds applications and mobile products for a number of leading international publishers and brands.
He can be contacted on Twitter @timrowell or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.