Why The Daily Failed

About two years ago, when NewsCorp launched the iPad app and news organization called The Daily, I wrote a rather long post pointing out why it was misguided crap (even though I said it wasn’t) —  but, hey, it employed 100 journalists and was at least better than another really awful idea,  so if Rupert Murdoch wanted to throw away his investors’ money, what did I care?, I observed.

The venture failed. Surprise.

Many people are arm-chair quarterbacking the demise of the venture and coming up with theories that are, frankly, implying that it could have ever succeeded. It was doomed before it was ever even an idea.

Here’s the reason it failed: No one in something called “the audience” cared that it succeeded.  Let me put that more clearly: It did not matter to anyone who really matters when it comes to the success of a media business venture. Or any venture, for that matter.

No matter how seemingly brilliant any idea, or how deep the pockets of any backers, or even how talented and brilliant the people executing the idea — if it doesn’t matter to anyone called “audience,” or “user,” or “reader,” or my favorite, “customer,” then it really doesn’t matter.

Things that don’t matter to anyone called any of those things fail.

Check the history books, or Wikipedia. I’m sure you’ll discover that “not mattering to customers” is the leading cause of failure by multi-billionaires who believe any idea they dream up will succeed.

  • The most puzzling response I have heard today is hey, at least they should get credit for trying something new. Ok, give them “credit” for all that’s worth (that, a nickel and a really good time machine will get you a cup of coffee in 1950). How long before Instapaper creator Marco Arment starts getting even more free publicity for his bootstrapped iOS magazine start up?

    But as usual, it all goes back to the old Monty Python story of the coconuts, which legend has it, were used in the Holy Grail movie as a substitute for real horses due to budget constraints and went on to become one of the most memorable bits from the whole movie. Lack of resources can concentrate the mind and force innovation. Too much money? You get humongous flops like The Daily or The Industry Standard (and I’m flying business class to Tokyo upstairs on a 747).

  • Interesting you should mention Marco, as I thought of him when reading this news. I don’t mind if he gets more publicity.

    Marco represents what I believe to be the kind of startup model that is to be lauded. The kind that’s not defined by how much money its raised, but how awesome (and simple) its (his) products are.

    I assume he’s an excellent developer — Tumblr and Instapaper look good on his resume, at least.

    And in my estimation, his understanding of designing readable content for the iPad screen is unsurpassed. He writes with great passion and in a way that most times I can follow what he’s saying.

    But the most amazing thing about him is that he’s one of the few people who gives something away free that, despite not knowing why, I gladly fork over a subscription, just because Instapaper *matters* to me. I’m not sure he’ll conquer the media field with the same deftness as he has two software platforms, however he’s been very clear that if it doesn’t work, it won’t be the end of the world.

    As for The Industry Standard, it is somewhat ironic that it is equated with excess and having too much money (or, not recognizing that the bubble burst), the founder of its parent company is said to have sold his car to raise the $5,000 he used to start the company. He saw opportunity somewhere before others did — and created media that mattered to those who created all of this stuff we call technology.

  • Sorry if I was being too flip in my comment yesterday.

    A post by John Gruber put an even sharper point on the software aspects of the Daily’s failure and some of the contrasts with Arment: http://daringfireball.net/2012/12/why_the_daily_failed

    It makes me wonder if we ink-stained wretch types might be underestimating the degree to which the Daily’s poor software figured into its decline (in the same way some journalists fail to appreciate that Google’s popularity is built not just on the quality of search results but also on the speed of delivery and other hard-to-see technical advantages).

    As to The Industry Standard, and as chronicled by my former and current colleague Jim Ledbetter in his book “Starving to Death on $200 Million,” there was quite a bit of excess. I wasn’t there in the pre-publication planning days, but when the Internet bubble went bonkers it helped set off the Internet magazine bubble, which I was around to witness. To me, there was enough talent and audience interest to sustain a very good business magazine and web site but overhead got out of control, way out of control, when the revenue skyrocketed and then crashed. The parent company, IDG, which was founded with the aforementioned car money, is still around and seems to be a survivor. There were some quite severe cultural clashes between the leaders of the Standard back in San Francisco and Pat McGovern’s crew back in Boston.

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