Posts about murdoch

Why The Daily is counting its days

The Guardian asked for my take on the death of The Daily. Here it is (with links that fell out on the way to London):

On Twitter, I’ve already been accused of schadenfreude over the death of News Corp.’s soon-to-die, pay-walled, tablet-only, once-a-day news venture called The Daily.

Not so. I’d have loved to have seen an online-only news service make it. But The Daily was, in my view, doomed from the start because of all the adjectival modifiers listed above.

First, the pay wall: News Corp. proprietor Rupert Murdoch has elevated charging for content to a religion. He says people should pay for his products (though I’ve never seen a successful business plan in a competitive market built on the verb “should”). He turned his Times from an internet presence of note into a footnote because he insisted upon putting it behind a wall.

With The Daily, Murdoch wanted to prove that he could start and we would buy a news product online. But he forgot a key lesson of selling subscriptions, one he surely learned when he owned magazines: that it takes a lot of marketing expense to acquire customers. It costs money to charge money.

When it started, I calculated that The Daily would need to net at least 750,000 subscriptions — 1 million when accounting for cancellations (aka “churn”) — to break even on an operating basis, what with a share of sales going to Apple on the iPad. Murdoch promised he would sell “millions.” In the end, it reached 100,000 subscribers, not nearly enough to compensate for a reported $30 million in development cost and $500,000 per week burn rate.

Mind you, I am not against charging for content. I will happily sell you my books. But The Daily wasn’t much worth paying for. Though it looked quite nice and its content was competent, that content was all-in-all just news and news is a commodity available for free in many other places. Larry Kramer, publisher of the much-larger USA Today, just said with admirable candor that he can’t put up a pay wall online because his product “isn’t unique enough.” Ditto The Daily.

Next, The Daily started as an iPad-only offering. Eventually, it branched out to the iPhone and to Android tablets (but only for Verizon telephone customers) and the Kindle. I hope that other publishers learn from this misguided “mobile” strategy. Too many have dreamed that the tablet would return to them the control over brand, experience, and business model that the web and its links took from them. Too many think they need to create new products just for so-called mobile devices (though we actually often use them when stationary, at desk or on couch).

No, a news organization should have a strategy built around relationships with individuals, serving them wherever, whenever, and on whatever platform they like. My needs don’t change just because the device in my hands does.

Finally, there was the absolutely befuddling decision to make The Daily daily. News was only ever daily because it was forced into that limitation by the means of production and distribution of print. The internet freed us from those shackles of time. Why put them on again? Nostalgia?

In the breakup of News Corp. that is the real outcome of the London news scandals and the Leveson inquiry, the new company had to start cleaning up its books, getting rid of money-losing ventures. The Daily was the first to go. But there are more in that stable, starting with the New York Post, which loses, by one account, $110 million a year just to give Murdoch what he has long called his “bully pulpit.” Now he has a bully pulpit with almost four times more subscribers for free on Twitter. Can The Post’s obit be far behind?

PR and corruption theater

Today was about public relations — but not about the public.

What was exposed in Parliament during the Murdochs’ testimony wasn’t necessarily News Corp. — we shall see what happens to it — but instead the cozy, closed ties between institutional journalism and institutional government. The corruption of their close links was what was most shocking about today: news executives and politicians at lunch and spas and sporting events; news executives hired by politicians and police to give advice and spin their ex-colleagues; news reporters paying police; news executives sneaking through the back door to the seat of power; government officials being protected from hearing too much about the dirty work of news…..

Can this institutional incest survive the Murdoch affair? We’d better not allow it — we, the public.

Today was all about theater and manipulation, of course. The only question was, who wrote the scripts? Was Rupert Murdoch’s dottiness a strategy handed down from Edelman or was that him abandoning his libretto to declare himself suddenly humble (if that’s humility…)? Was James coached to be a parody of a droning MBA? Was it in the crisis-management script for Rupert to decline responsibility for the scandal in his company and to blame those below him and those below them? Was it in his PR script to lash out at his competitors to for causing him to lose BSkyB, and not at himself?

Among the day’s many ironies was Rupert Murdoch extolling transparency. The reason I pulled Public Parts from his publisher, HarperCollins, was because I use his company as the best example I could find of opacity as strategy: the company behind walls. The problem through his entire scandal is one of hiding the truth from the authorities and the public.

Transparency would be true public relations. Transparency would have cured News Corp.’s crimes years ago. But it didn’t.

Jay Rosen was trying to figure out the News Corp. PR strategy — and Edelman’s strategy for taking it on. Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the Washington Post and a fine tweeter, argued that “good crisis management can lead to good, not just spin.” Richard Sambrook, former BBC News exec now at Edelman, concurred.

I don’t buy the strategy, not anymore. David Weinberger, a friend of Edelman, says the secret is aligned interests. I argued in What Would Google Do? that two trades — PR and the law — could not be googlified because they depend on clients. They cannot be transparent. They cannot be honest.

True public relations — like marketing — must represent the public — the customer — and not the company. True government must work for and not rule the public. True journalism will not exploit its community. I was struck today by the class structure still evident in British news: poshish Rebekah Brooks pandering to the Cockney masses. No, true journalism will act as a platform for the public.

What’s next for News Corp. and its worlds

There’s no telling how the News Corp. saga will turn out, but I’ll try. Here’s a scenario that leads to the breakup of News Corp., the Murdochs out of power, the deflation of institutional journalism, a break in the too-cozy media-government complex, an unfortunate rise in regulation of media, and a fortunate opening for newcomers. This story of legality and morality will quickly shift to one driven by business.

A week ago in HuffPo, I speculated that News Corp. would need to get out of the news business. Not so crazy. Since then, the FT’s John Gapper speculated similarly, as did John Cassidy at The New Yorker.

And since then, News International head Rebekah Brooks resigned and was arrested; Dow Jones head Les Hinton resigned; Murdoch gave up on BSkyB; the Murdochs agreed to testify before Parliament; and the revelations of corruption between News Corp. and police and government get only worse, leading to the resignation of the head of the police. What looked so far out doesn’t look so far out now. So how could this progress?

* Start with the end of a Murdoch succession plan. Rupert’s defense aside, James Murdoch’s handling of the scandal has been irresponsible, short-sighted, cocky, and dangerous. The trail of scandal is lapping at James’ feet. Whether or not he is investigated or arrested for crimes, there can be no confidence in his leadership. None of his siblings is in any better position and they are feuding anyway. Rupert Murdoch is looking more lost and his testimony Tuesday at what will appear (to Americans, at least) like an impeachment hearing will only implode his stature yet further.

Meanwhile, more importantly, News Corp. lost more than $7 billion in market cap over four scandal-filled days. That number may go up or down but it’s ominous in any case. Shareholders are suing. There will be a call for professional and independent management of the corporation, sooner than later. If I were an “independent” director of News Corp., I’d be scared to death right now.

Buh-bye Murdochs? As unthinkable as that may have been only two weeks ago, it’s now quite conceivable.

* Off with the headlines! That professional management will quickly conclude that the news divisions of News Corp. are a costly drag and will try to divest them, starting with the UK properties and then spreading elsewhere. News Corp. is an entertainment company. Professional management will focus on that and get rid of Rupert’s bully pulpits. If they previously did bring clout and regulatory convenience to the Murdoch’s business strategies, now all they bring is grief and the attention of lawmakers, prosecutors, competitors, and detractors. News is clearly not a growth business; it is, as a friend in the trade said, profit-challenged. So stop the presses already.

I said in my post last Monday it may be difficult to find a market for the properties. But they become costlier to News Corp. by the day, so the desire to unload them will only grow as their value declines. In the UK, the Sun has been eclipsed online by the Daily Mail. Murdoch gave up on strategies of growth and advertising when he put The Times behind a paywall, its audience shrinking from millions to a reported 100,000. An egotistical oligarch might buy either.

* In the U.S., the right-wing depends on Fox News and is surely getting nervous about its fate. It is becoming — if one can imagine this — even more of a laughingstock than it already was as it ignores or defends Murdoch in the scandal. I could imagine Roger Ailes assembling rich Republicans to engineer a leveraged buyout and keep it safe for them in time for the election. Then there could be no doubt of its role as a propaganda arm of the right.

The New York Post loses tens of millions a year and lives only to give Murdoch his toy and pulpit. Professional management cannot justify that. It will die or find its egotistical oligarch (its Conrad Black or Robert Maxwell … I cannot imagine even the Murdoch heirs allowing their patriarch to hold onto it and eat into their fortune yet further).

The Wall Street Journal is in quite the pickle. Again, professional management will want to get rid of it because it is not a good business; its ROI, if any, is worse than The Simpson’s. But who would buy it? Recall that no one else but Murdoch would buy it for the price he offered, an overeager amount he soon had to write-down. Last week, I suggested that if Murdoch wants to rescue the last shred of his legacy, he should put the Journal into a trust, a la the Guardian and its Scott Trust. Past that, it’s hard to imagine its fate. Would Bloomberg or Reuters buy its financial data businesses? Is there a fire-sale buyer for the paper and its web site? They’d better hurry before it is ruined by delusional editorial such as this one defending Murdoch.

News Corp. is also in the business of coupons and circulars distributed in newspapers. That business, too, will shrink as those transactions go digital and mobile. I’ve been told by major marketers that their need for FSIs (free-standing inserts) will disappear within two years — another blow to newspapers’ kidneys. Someone will buy that business to consolidate the trade. Though it, too, has News Corp. cooties. David Carr says this division has paid out $655 million to get rid of charges of espionage and anticompetitive behavior.

In publishing, that leaves HarperCollins. Murdoch tried to sell it sometime ago; no such luck. Who’d buy it now? I couldn’t imagine. (Disclosure: My last book, What Would Google Do?, was published by HarperCollins. My next book, Public Parts, was set to be but I pulled it when I found myself being highly critical of News Corp. as the antithesis to a company that operates openly.)

There’s been much speculation that illegalities abroad — or, if they are found, in the U.S. — could lead to News Corp losing its domestic TV licenses. I don’t think that would happen. If professional management replaces the Murdochs and the scandal-ridden news divisions are ejected, then it’s hard to imagine the FCC — which basically never revokes licenses and would take a decade to try — pushing News Corp. out of the local TV business. Besides that, there is nothing I’d call news on Fox stations. They are entertainment distribution outlets.

* The only thing left in the publishing arm is Australia. Various politicians of lesser or greater power are calling for reconsideration of the incredible newspaper holdings Murdoch has there. I could see the company holding onto this for old time’s sake if there isn’t too much political pressure. Or I could see it being spun off to family, again for old time’s sake.

* So then News Corp. would be an entertainment company and a successful one.

* The next big impact will be regulating journalism in the UK. As I said here, I would lament that. The regulators didn’t bring Murdoch to the bar; journalists did — namely Nick Davies of the Guardian. We don’t need more controls on journalism. We need more journalism.

In the US, you can bet we’ll hear more about regulating media consolidation. But that’s not the issue. Morality is.

* I believe the biggest long-term impact of l’affaire Murdoch will be the diminution of institutional journalism and its cozy relationship with institutional government. That is good news. It opens opportunities for independents: for us.

* None of this could happen. Murdoch will hold on as long as he can — witness Murdoch’s “interview” with the Wall Street Journal claiming that the company has handled all this well and also the denial in the Wall Street Journal editorial just published, which tries to shift the blame for shoddy journalism to Murdoch’s competitors and critics. The longer Murdoch holds on, the less his empire will be worth. Just how stubborn is he?

: LATER: Bloomberg says News Corp is worth 50% more without Murdoch.

By valuing each of News Corp.’s businesses separately, the New York-based media conglomerate would be worth $62 billion to $79 billion, estimates from Barclays Plc and Gabelli & Co. show, indicating News Corp. trades at an almost 50 percent discount to its units. . . .

“There’s just sort of this generic Murdoch discount, which encompasses the concern that he will make decisions that are not consistent with other shareholder interests,” said Michael Morris, an analyst at Davenport & Co. in Richmond, Virginia. “The sum of the parts on News Corp. is huge compared with where the stock trades.”

Will News Corp. leave the news business?

The question is, what’s more valuable to the Murdoch clan: power or money?

I’d follow the money every time. Oh, Dad, cares about power, for sure. He cares about his legacy, too. Given his time left on this earth, I’d say there’s no time to repair that legacy in journalistic and political terms. If he also leaves a company worth nothing to his heirs, then he has no tangible legacy. That is surely what his heirs care most about — most do: money.

So I wonder whether News Corp. will have to get out of the news business to save the business of News Corp. For it’s not so bad to be rapacious when you’re in the entertainment business.

You might say that Rupert would have his newspapers pried from his dead hands and that might well be the case. But know well that he is not loyal to media. I used to work for TV Guide. He loved magazines then. Things turned sour. He got rid of them. He worked his ass off to get satellite TV in the US. When he had it, it turned out to be inconvenient; he got rid of it. When he had a choice of owning TV stations or newspapers in Boston and Chicago, there went the papers.

So I could see stockholders and managers and heirs pressure Murdoch to get rid of his news properties.

Only problem is, who’d want them? The News of the World is dead. The Sun has been eclipsed by the Daily Mail in the online and global future. Murdoch gave up on the future for The Times of London when he built his wall around it. But that also means it’s not so valuable a bully pulpit anymore, what with only 100k online readers versus the enemy Guardian’s tens of millions. The New York Post, on which he loses tens of millions of dollars a year just as the price of a bully pulpit, would die, unless there’s an ego and bank account even bigger than Rupert’s to resurrect it once again. He sold his other pulpit, The Standard. Fox News? Ah, that’s interesting. Maybe we should all gang together on Kickstarter and buy it, eh? There’d be a market for that thing and maybe that’d be good for the country. Sky News? He’d already sacrificed that to get BSkyB (see: money trumps power). The Australian papers? A fine spun-off gift for Lachlan, I’d say.

Oops. I forgot the Wall Street Journal on which Rupert overspent mightily. You want to leave a legacy, Rupert: Make it the beneficiary of the Murdoch Trust (just as the Guardian is to be sustained in perpetuity by its Scott Trust).

And what’s left? A gigantic, profitable media conglomerate and an inheritance for the Murdoch clan.

Daily economics

I have not seen News Corp’s Daily (I was invited to the preview last night but travel, exhaustion, health, weather, and thus prudence had me take the train home and I couldn’t get in today because of the ice). So I have nothing at all to say about the product. I am trying to get my head around the economics and I hope better mathematical and business minds than mine will analyze what it will take for the Daily to succeed.

Rupert Murdoch said the Daily went through $30 million in development costs that are already written off. He said operating costs will run $500,000 a week. So in the first year, the Daily will cost roughly $55 million. That’s a lot. For comparison, Portfolio went through somewhere between $40-100 million. I said we’d never see another publication launch of that scale. I was wrong. Also for comparison, News Corp’s abortive aggregator, Project Alesia, went through a reported $30 million.

Let’s say that circulation covers the costs of the Daily — since getting consumer revenue is the real point of the exercise — and that advertising is profit. Note well that I have *no* reason to believe that’s News Corp’s strategy. It simply makes it easier to illustrate the economics and the questions I hope other reporters tackle.

The Daily is selling for $1 a week or $40 a year.

So how many subs would they have to sell to break even on the $500k/week cost? (Note that’s break-even on an operating basis, not on the total investment.) It’s a bit more than 500k subs at $1 each for the reasons below.

Figure that Apple is taking something less than its normal 30% share for the privilege of having the Daily. Murdoch said that it will be ported to all major table platforms but then he said that last year, this year, and next year “belong to Apple.” (I have no idea whether he means that metaphorically or contractually.)

Figure also that there will be churn as there has been in iPad magazine sales. That means — as it always does with sub sales — that one must sell new subscriptions to replace cancellations to reach your magic number. Let’s say the Daily loses–and I’m pulling this number out of a hat– 10% a month, which it needs to replace. So if you’re selling 100k this month, you need to sell 110k next month to get to 200k and 120k the following month to get to 300 and so on.

I’m not qualified to run these numbers; I wish someone with circ experience would. But to pick another number out of the hat, let’s say that the Daily needs 750k net subs to hit cash-flow break-even because around 25% of circ revenue goes to Apple and half the subs are sold at the 20% discount. With churn, they’d need to sell a total of up to 1 million gross to reach that number while accounting for a subscriber acquisition (marketing) cost of, say, $10 (which is light but given Apple’s promotion, probably not unreasonable).

I picked 750k because it’s somewhere in the ballpark — Murdoch said he eventually plans to sell “millions” — and also because it leads to an easily rounded number for marketshare: The Daily would capture about 10% of the installed base of iPad owners today (though that’s a worldwide number, so the U.S. figure would be higher). That’s pretty high.

For comparison, Wired sells about 22k issues a month on the iPad, down from a debut of 31k, Glamour sold 2,775 in November, losing 20% a month from the prior two months (even as iPad sales soared)–note the higher churn number than I used above. So the Daily would need to sell roughly 34 times the sales of Wired. But it is daily and not monthly.

Now switch to advertising. The market will be small for sometime. I’m told these days that major brand advertisers won’t pay attention to a site until it gets 3 million audience. Then again, the value of tablet advertising is supposed to be high and advertisers like the experience. I also wonder whether the ads will also go through Apple and it will again take a share of a quarter to a third. There are so many variables in advertising–unique users per day; time spend and pages and ads views; avails per page; measurement of ROI (is there click-through?)–that it’s nigh until impossible for me to guess at the revenue. But I throw this out, again, in hopes that someone will tackle it.

Once more: I have NO figures other than the two Murdoch gave. I have ONLY questions. I hope the Daily is profitable; I hope any new news venture is profitable. I’d simply like to have a better idea of what it will take to get there. Anyone want to help? Please DO tell me where I and my assumptions are full of crap and please DO add experience and data. I just want to understand the dynamics of the business.

: Folks on Twitter are saying that I say the economics of the Daily don’t add up. I am not saying that. I simply want to see the addition.

Murdoch: The Dirty Dumper

Rupert Murdoch, known as the Dirty Digger, is more like the Dirty Dumper as he drops ad prices in New York (and he’s known for dropping cover prices in London) — because he apparently doesn’t really give a damn about making money with his newspapers, he cares about influence and killing his ideological enemies. The New York Times vows not to drop to his level — and rates — as Murdoch starts his New York would-be Times killer. We’ll see. Keep that in mind when you hear about Murdoch pushing business models charging for content. Profitability in news isn’t his model. His agenda is. Just saying.

Compare/contrast

Tweet: Compare/contrast Rupert Murdoch on the internet (and me) then and now.

In 2005, Rupert Murdoch gave a rousing speech to the American Society of Newspapers Editors calling on them to listen to digital natives. Yesterday, his deputy, Les Hinton, gave a speech to the World Association of Newspapers in India warning them to beware geeks bearing gifts.

Murdoch in 2005:

Like many of you in this room, I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t weaned on the web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralized world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few editors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives. They’ll never know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access.

The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants – many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated — to apply a digital mindset to a new set of challenges.

We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from….

The challenge, however, is to deliver that news in ways consumers want to receive it. Before we can apply our competitive advantages, we have to free our minds of our prejudices and predispositions, and start thinking like our newest consumers. In short, we have to answer this fundamental question: what do we – a bunch of digital immigrants — need to do to be relevant to the digital natives?

Murdoch deputy Hinton yesterday:

We are all allowing our journalism – billions of dollars worth of it every year – to leak onto the internet. We are surrendering our hard-earned rights to the search engines, and aggregators, and the out-and-out thieves of the digital age.

It is time to pause and recognize this – Free Costs Too Much. News is a business, and we should not be ashamed to say so. It’s also a tougher business today than ever before. We have survived other perceived threats – radio, television, cable TV. But this time it is different.

How can it be that the Internet offered so much promise and so little profit? I guess a lot of newspaper people were taken in by the game-changing gospel of the internet age. It was a new dawn, we were told. A new epoch, a new paradigm. And we just didn’t get it.

Like an over-eager middle-aged dad, desperate to look cool, we ended up dancing obediently to other people’s tunes. For a while. You can almost hear the music – an algorithm and blues soundtrack – accompanying the harbingers of the new economy with the new rules of the new age. Their rules.

These digital visionaries tell people like me that we just don’t understand them. They talk about the wonders of the interconnected world, about the democratization of journalism. The news, they say, is viral now – that we should be grateful.

Well, I think all of us need to beware of geeks bearing gifts.

Listen to digital natives or beware them? Which is it?

On a personal note, see Murdoch on me in 2005 (a plug I was given because I helped Murdoch’s then speechwriter, Gary Ginsberg, with the substance of the talk):

Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle. Think about how blogs and message boards revealed that Kryptonite bicycle locks were vulnerable to a Bic pen. Or the Swiftboat incident. Or the swift departure of Dan Rather from CBS. One commentator, Jeff Jarvis, puts it this way: give the people control of media, they will use it. Don’t give people control of media, and you will lose them.

Now see Hinton referring to me yesterday:

Or as Jeff Jarvis, one of the leading proponents of the information-must-be-free imperative puts it: The content economy is over. Is it really?

(By the way, I’m not part of that crowd. Jay Rosen would challenge Hinton for a link.)

The new divide: Walled v. open

Tweet: The new divide in media is walled v. open. Here’s why I think walls are bad for the builders and us all.

In the discussion about news, there’s always a divide – because news loves divides. The splits have been old v. new, MSM v. blogs, professional v. amateur, institutional v. entrepreneurial, and lately paid v. free.

But I fear another divide we’re beginning to see develop is walled v. open. The legacy players – in what I believe is their last-ditch effort to save their old ways, models, and empires — are threatening to put up walls. News Corp. is forever rumored to be putting up both pay walls and more walls to keep Google’s hordes of Huns (aka us useless asshats) out.

Some say: Fine, digital suicide couldn’t happen to a better mogul. But I say we should fear the precedent, the balkanization of the web into isolated worlds. It’s true that all the data on the web is not today available via search — content trapped in data bases, in Flash, in comments, in video — though I see continuing efforts to bring that content into the tent. The momentum is toward including ever more data. But now come Murdoch and Microsoft, threatening to take their balls and go home. It’s their right to do so; as Google always points out, it’s also easy to do so.

But I would hate to see walls go up just as we are tearing them down. That’s how Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger began his road show on the mutualization of news for my students a week ago: showing the wall between the press and the people coming down. But then, Rusbridger recognizes that the future of news – any industry, really – is about handing over control. That is what Murdoch et al fear most.

I fear balkanization. I fear stupidity, too – that others will follow Rupert the Pied Piper over the cliff. And I fear the impact on democracy.

At some events lately, I’ve heard it argued that information needs to be free to be democratic. I don’t agree. But I do say that when information is free, it becomes more democratic. Or put it a better way: the cheaper news and information is, the more people can be informed and the better that is for democracy.

Rusbridger reminds us that advertising freed newspapers from ownership and control by political parties and special interests who exercised that control via patronage. Advertising gave journalism independence. Advertising also subsidized news and reduced its cost so more people could get it. Surely the mission of news is to serve as many people as possible and so things that serve that end serve the mission; things that don’t, don’t.

I’m accused by those who don’t listen to what I say of arguing that – in the too-often paraphrased half quote – news (information, content) wants to be free, as if that is my cause, my religion. No, I say that I want to support news in the most sustainable and profitable way possible — and I believe today, that’s still advertising, which will work better in the open. I want to make news more efficient and less expensive so it can, again, be more sustainable — which will also work better in the open as networks, collaboration, and links serve that efficiency. And I want news to be as open as possible so as many people as possible can use it — that’s as close as I get to a cause: not that information wants to be or must be free but that it is better to be open.

Murdoch thinks Google is doing evil — kleptomania — because he doesn’t understand the new realities of media. Microsoft knows better. Its alleged attempt to woo old-man Murdoch is an act of deepest cynicism. It’s evil.

I believe that the next wave of virtue in society will flow from openness: from government transparency, from corporate transparency, from personal publicness and an ethic of openness that will bring greater accountability, deeper connections, and meaningful sharing.

Walls used to contain value; that’s why it’s the reflex of the legacy powerful to want to build them. They don’t see that today, in an open society and economy, walls no longer preserve value, they diminish it.

So I’m not rooting for Murdoch to build his walls as good sport. I really wish he wouldn’t, for his sake and ours.