It's been seven weeks since Rupert Murdoch opened the doors on the tablet newspaper The Daily, and next week it faces its sternest test. March 21 is the day all trial subscriptions come to an end. News Corp. gets its first sense of whether readers will pony up $1 a week for a newspaper rendered in a mobile app, or if The Daily fades into the downloaded-and-forgotten oblivion that afflicts so many in Apple's App Store.
So far, quite a few users are taking a flier on The Daily; publisher Greg Clayman told Ad Age that downloads number in the "hundreds of thousands." The app is No. 4 in the "news" category on iTunes. Mr. Clayman wouldn't say how many have paid for the app, but added that a report that said only 5,000 had paid "isn't accurate." We talked to Mr. Clayman, who will be taking the stage at the Ad Age Digital Conference April 6 and 7 in New York.
Ad Age: It's been a bit of a trial by fire for a news publication, with Egypt, Libya and new a nuclear crisis in Japan. Have you learned anything in the last few weeks?
Mr. Clayman: People are really interested in news. We have a lot of different sections; obviously gossip and games and sports, but all the feedback we get is about the news. People are interested in what we're covering and how we're covering it. We sent teams to Libya and Egypt and they came back with photographs and interviews that no one else had. Our guy interviewed the head of the rebel alliance [in Libya] last week. We had 360-degree pictures of Tahir Square and the Egypt museum after it had been ransacked. You could see where the glass was broken and the artifacts that had been taken.
Ad Age: Plenty of downloads on your app so far, but how do you keep readers coming back and decide to pay you for your content?
Mr. Clayman: If you are the kind of person who downloads an app, plays with it, and gets bored with it, the daily would actually be great for you. Any number of apps get downloaded. Our app changes every day. The thing about it that is so interesting to me is that every single day it looks different, has different content and different functionality. It's like we are producing new software every day.
Ad Age: Has anyone subscribed?
Mr. Clayman: Our downloads are in the hundreds of thousands. We haven't hit a million yet. Someone reported that we has 5,000 subscribers. There are obviously some people who have subscribed early, but that number is not accurate. We're not releasing that yet.
Ad Age: When will you launch on Google Android-powered tablets like Samsung's Galaxy or Motorola's Xoom? Conceivably that could be a better business for you, since Google takes a smaller percentage than Apple, no?
Mr. Clayman: We are working on other tablets and Android is the big one. There is no set time frame. The business models on Android and iPad are definitely different. But there are 15 million iPads in the market and a half-million iPad 2's sold over the weekend whereas Android is still at early stages.
Ad Age: You've extended your free period well beyond the two weeks initially promised. Why?
Mr. Clayman: Everybody who signs up there is a two-week free period. That has always been true. After we launched we had a couple of fixes to the app and fixed some stability issues and we wanted to extend everybody's period through those weeks. If you sign up today you still get your two weeks.
Ad Age: Will the processor speed or camera on the iPad 2 change what the app can do?
Mr. Clayman: Everything is faster on it. You play a video and it pops right up. You jump around the app and everything is smooth. The app performs better; all apps perform better. Outside of that it has a camera. One of the things we do is having commenting. You can comment via typing and audio; a bunch of people leave audio comments. The ability to do video commenting or submit a picture is something we're excited to do.
Ad Age: Most news organizations produce for many platforms, but not The Daily. Is there anything wrong with putting The Daily on the web?
Mr. Clayman: The product we've created is very much a table product, with lots of touchscreen interactions. The functionality of the app is something we've thought a lot about. It's not just like a website. What about the future and HTML 5 and all the interactivity that they're building into PCs and laptops with touchscreens? What happens when you can approximate that experience on a more tethered device? That might be interesting but we are not there yet. We believe that the platform is going to grow, and it is at the early stages of a sea change. We are producing for it and going in that direction.
Ad Age: Can your content compete in the news ecosystem if it's not part of the open web?
Mr. Clayman: We definitely understand the value and want to be part of the conversation on the web. The good news for us is we are already seeing that. People comment on our stories and write about what we cover. We break stories that are picked up by CNN, NBC, Huffington Post, and Drudge. We have become part of the conversation about current events. What we've done is allow people to share stuff from our app to social media and those articles exist as standalone web pages.
Ad Age: Our critic, Simon Dumenco criticized the editorial voice, saying the stories are too short and have a disjointed point of view. Do you think he has a point?
Mr. Clayman: We do have in-depth stories; in some respects we are like a magazine. Some of it is very glossy. There are the folks from Conde Nast working on some of our sections. Some of it is like television. We are shooting different pieces [of video] every day. I think it is important that it have a voice. It probably leans more toward the tabloid-y than broadsheet-y but we want to be fun. We want to be funny. We want to be serious as well. You're covering serious stories and breaking news and people come to you for that but they also come to you for your voice and your take on events.