Lessons from The Daily’s Closure

December 17, 2012

Brianby Brian Bell, CMO


With the recent news that e-newspaper The Daily has closed, experts are wondering what lessons can be ascertained for the publishing industry at large. TechCrunch author MG Siegler argues rather convincingly that The Daily failed because it was built on an old business model and an old vision of the customer/publication relationship.There are other publications on tablets with smaller installation requirements, better content, and stronger understandings of their audience.


The major problem that The Daily faced was one of vision. The Daily thought of itself as a product, not a service. Its editors never really answered the question, “Do I really need content that I can only get on an iPad?” Rather than being a boon, The Daily’s iPad exclusivity was a burden in some ways. The Daily had little chance to be successful by going through Apple’s App Store– The Daily traded the ability to see their customers, get their feedback and have control over their pricing and packaging for the visibility of the App Store.


Take the case of Byliner and Atavist, for example. These two publishers specialize in original digital content and, like The Daily, are embracing the mobile platform. They’re both experimenting with subscriptions for their digital content across all platforms. Byliner and Atavist’s move to subscriptions is exciting not just because they provide a more diverse selection of quality writing to readers, but because they both employ personalized, more flexible approaches to recurring revenue than what The Daily offered.


Byliner is still tinkering with its subscription service pricing, and there seems to be little indication that they’ll discontinue single transactions for their “e-single” content. Diversification is key with digital content, and being able to adapt (by perhaps experimenting with different pricing tiers) will put Byliner on a path to success. Byliner is experimenting with a new subscription program called Byliner Plus; for a monthly fee, Byliner will offer unlimited access to Byliner original content– around 40 articles– and several pieces from authors who have never been published online before.


“For some time now readers have been asking if they can just subscribe and receive each new Original automatically, and we wanted to accommodate that request,” explained Byliner CEO John Tayman to PaidContent.org.


Atavist, meanwhile is not only giving the best of both worlds– subscriptions and single-purchases– but it’s actively creating a platform for its partners to offer subscriptions as well. “It’s an ongoing source of revenue, opposed to selling each title individually, which we’ve been successful at,” explained Atavist CEO Evan Ratliff. “But why not do both?”


The Daily failed partly because it was tethered to the old way of thinking, that of Paywall 1.0. They need to afford flexible, cross-platform content that they still own. As subscription businesses, Byliner and Atavist will need to know who their most valuable customers are, what products and services have the highest return, and whether upsell, renewal, and new strategies are working. Byliner and Atavist have said they’re going to remain diverse and flexible when it comes to the customer relationship– but the challenges are far from over.