Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Rupert Murdoch Gives Guests a Sneak Peek of Tomorrow's "Daily" Tonight. Here's What They'll See.

The Daily makes its official debut tomorrow morning, at a press event at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

[CLICK HERE FOR LIVE COVERAGE OF THE PRESS EVENT]
But a select crowd will get to see the iPad newspaper tonight, at an equally notable Manhattan location: Rupert Murdoch’s apartment, where the News Corp. CEO is hosting a “low key” cocktail party.

Although News Corp. owns this Web site, my email invite to tonight’s pre-launch launch event hasn’t arrived, and I’m told it never will. The company hasn’t offered me a peek at the Daily, either.

But at this point I’ve still got a pretty decent sense of what Murdoch’s guests will see this evening, and the rest of us will see tomorrow: A newspaper that’s both old-fashioned and cutting-edge.

People who have gotten up  close to the the Daily describe a digital paper where many of the news stories look just like news stories you’d see anywhere else.

Others will look more like iPhone apps, featuring interactive graphics or videos, or photos you can swipe, pinch and zoom–with perhaps almost no text at all.

And there’s more! There’s no 3-D video yet, though it’s on the agenda. But there will be an audio feature so you can have stories read aloud to you. And there’s a crossword puzzle! And Sudoku!

A Daily-watcher who thinks the thing is amazing compares it to the Daily Prophet, the magical newspaper read by Harry Potter and his wizard pals.

More jaded observers tell me it’s more or less what they’ve seen in existing iPad magazine apps, particularly Hearst’s Popular Mechanics and Condé Nast’s Wired. The big difference is that those magazines come out monthly, and the Daily will get beamed to your iPad… daily.

Still, the most striking thing about the Daily has nothing to do with any technical bells and whistles. It’s Murdoch’s insistence that he can sell a digital newspaper app to consumers trained to expect that digital news is what you get on the Web, for free.

The Daily is almost defiantly anti-Web: It will have a free site, with a grudging sample of perhaps 10 percent of the newspaper’s stories, but that’s it. While Web news sites increasingly focus on aggregation and filtering of other people’s content, the Daily will focus on making its own stuff, even though plenty of other people are already doing it.

And while News Corp. officials have tried to argue that the Daily isn’t a newspaper but something else, it is most definitely produced using a newspaper model: Six sections, written once a day–the Daily team is particularly excited about its sports coverage–and delivered in the wee hours of the morning.

The Daily will allow for some midday updates, but it’s really designed to land with a digital thud on your virtual doorstep, just like the newspapers Murdoch has loved all his life.

Murdoch will charge 99 cents a week for a subscription, and he’s certainly going to get some takers at the start, especially since the Daily will be free for the first two weeks after tomorrow’s launch.

Which will be a noisy one. The press will give it plenty of free promotion, and News Corp. will augment that with a digital ad campaign, in addition to offline marketing donated and/or bartered from other Murdoch properties. Perhaps there’s a way to mention it once or twice during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast on Fox.

Much more important will be the endorsement from Apple, which is using the Daily to roll out a new “push” subscription feature.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was supposed to appear onstage in San Francisco with Murdoch to bless the launch, will send content boss Eddy Cue to New York tomorrow instead.

That’s still Apple’s seal of approval, though, and I can’t think of another time the company has so conspicuously blessed a single third-party product. That alone will be enough to prompt an enormous number of people to try it out.

Remember that Apple already has a customer base of  some 125 million iTunes users–if you do want to buy this thing, you won’t need to pull out a credit card. A few button clicks will do.

The real question, of course, is how many people are going to pay for the Daily a month down the road, when the buzz is gone. And there’s no way to guess at that when you get your first look at the thing. No matter when that happens.


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