Much will be written over the following weeks and months about the sad demise of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper that was, according to media pundits, over-staffed and “under-imagined” from the start.
The reasons for its failure are multifarious and interlocking. Other specialist publications are perhaps better-placed to analyse them in detail than we are. But I would like to say one thing: Thank God for Rupert Murdoch.
While Left-leaning newspapers bleat on endlessly about their exciting digital futures – while, in some cases, losing millions of dollars a week – Rupert Murdoch is the only media titan putting his money where his mouth is and risking sizeable sums on bold new ventures.
The decision appears ruthless: a few more years, and The Daily could have been profitable. But in its swift end, we see Murdoch for what he is: the entrepreneur’s media magnate, who takes bold decisions, fails fast, moves on and iterates rapidly.
“The Daily was a bold experiment in digital publishing and an amazing vehicle for innovation,” said News Corp today. “We will take the best of what we’ve learned at The Daily and apply it to our other properties.” Just as you’d expect.
The sluggishness of other media groups, particularly those in Britain, is embarrassing when compared to Murdoch’s willingness to experiment with new revenue models and digital products – even if, as with MySpace, his stewardship of them is not always successful.
The Times was the first newspaper in the UK to erect a paywall, shielding its content from non-paying readers. Slowly but surely, other publications are following where the Times led. The newspaper is now approaching 150,000 subscribers.
In the same way that Murdoch’s publications in the UK and US are the strongest guarantors of media plurality, his experiments with digital content are providing the blueprint the world over for new media business models. They will be studied, refined and leveraged by other organisations in the years to come.
Consider how much poorer the global media landscape would be, without Murdoch’s products, love or loathe them: Fox News in the United States and The Sun in the UK are remarkable and brilliant editorial propositions, surpassed in the genius of their execution only by the Daily Mail.
Then consider how cash-strapped and depressingly timid the likes of the Guardian and even, I’m sorry to say, the Telegraph have been in the last decade, despite their professed enthusiasm for the internet and the noise they make about innovation.
In a sorry race to the bottom in search of pageviews and Twitter followers, most newspapers have thrown quality out of the window in their online journalism compared to the print products of just a decade ago.
They ignore the wisdom apparent to the publishers of the Economist, Wall Street Journal, Spectator and even Private Eye, who know that in a saturated market, consumers will only pay for the finest quality products. Hence the healthy growth of those publications online and in some cases in print.
We should avoid the grudging regret I have seen expressed today by journalists at other publications, focused on the journalists who have lost their jobs. We should also avoid the grim and stupid arrogance of the tech blogs and their “no surprise” headlines.
In his indefatigability, fearlessness and determination, Murdoch is an archetype of what those same tech blogs tell us an entrepreneur should look like. We should celebrate the fact that there is at least one media titan and group of publishing companies boldly and expensively toying with online business models.
Because it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the healthy functioning of our democracy depends on the health of the larger media groups. And I don’t see comparable bravery and braggadocio coming from any of the others.