By John Gruber
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So the cat — or at least part of the cat — is out of the bag on Apple’s upcoming support for recurring subscription billing for content. Edward Helmore, reporting for The Guardian yesterday:
Rupert Murdoch, head of the media giant News Corp, and Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, are preparing to unveil a new digital “newspaper” called the Daily at the end of this month, according to reports in the US media.
The collaboration, which has been secretly under development in New York for several months, promises to be the world’s first “newspaper” designed exclusively for new tablet-style computers such as Apple’s iPad, with a launch planned for early next year.
Intended to combine “a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence”, the publication represents Murdoch’s determination to push the newspaper business beyond the realm of print.
According to reports, there will be no “print edition” or “web edition”; the central innovation, developed with assistance from Apple engineers, will be to dispatch the publication automatically to an iPad or any of the growing number of similar devices.
With no printing or distribution costs, the US-focused Daily will cost 99 cents (62p) a week.
This jibes, mostly, with what I’ve been hearing. The Guardian’s dates are slightly off, though. My understanding is that this initiative is going to launch with a press event, with Murdoch (and perhaps other newspaper and magazine executives) joining Steve Jobs on stage. This is not going to be a quiet launch, to say the least. But “this month” is effectively already over, considering that Thanksgiving is Thursday, so it won’t happen until next month at the earliest.
(The date I’ve heard is December 9, but that’s a Thursday, which would be somewhat unusual for an Apple press event. My guess is that they’re telling people December 9 but it might slip back to Tuesday or Wednesday the week after. Perhaps it will coincide with the opening of the Mac App Store?)
The key, though, is that what News Corp is working on is not an iPad counterpart to an existing newspaper, nor is it an “online newspaper” in general. It’s a “tablet newspaper” — and, at least for now, specifically an iPad newspaper.
The 79-year-old Murdoch is said to have had the idea for the project after studying a survey that suggested readers spent more time immersed in their iPads than they did — comparatively speaking — on the internet, where unfocused surfing is typical.
Sources say Murdoch is committed to the project in part because he believes that the Daily, properly executed, will demonstrate that consumers are willing to pay for high- quality, original content online.
Murdoch believes the iPad is going to be a “game changer” and he has seen projections that there will be 40 million iPads in circulation by the end of 2011. A source said: “He envisions a world in which every family has a iPad in the home and it becomes the device from which they get their news and information. If only 5% of those 40 million subscribe to the Daily, that’s already two million customers.”
Granted, Murdoch is the guy who bought MySpace for over $500 million, so his digital instincts are far from infallible, but at the very least it’s an interesting initiative. It’s a new, lean mean business model for daily news. Here’s Murdoch in an interview earlier this month with Max Suich at AFR.com:
I’m starting a paper in six weeks. A brand new paper. It will be a bit like the New York Post . But it will be national. Have that sort of humour and attitude like the Post. It will only be seen on tablets. It will only employ journalists — and maybe eight to 10 technicians.
As regards Apple’s role, my understanding, based on information from sources not at Apple, is that this is not something like iBooks — there is no central “iNews” or “Newsstand” app from Apple. Rather, it’s a new subscription billing option for apps — true recurring subscriptions — paid through your iTunes account. News Corp’s “Daily”, then, would be just an app in the App Store, using subscription billing routines built-into iOS. My understanding is that the developers at News Corp building the app already have preliminary documentation on the new subscription billing APIs from Apple. I presume this would require a new version of iOS, but perhaps the Daily will launch as soon as it can, free of charge until the billing support ships from Apple.
It would be nice if there were also a way for content to be delivered periodically in the background, so that when you launch it in the morning, you don’t have to wait for it to download today’s news. That’s just a “wouldn’t it be nice?” idea from me, though, not something I’ve heard is coming from Apple. But this bit from the Guardian story makes me wonder if they’re working on it:
[T]he central innovation, developed with assistance from Apple engineers, will be to dispatch the publication automatically to an iPad or any of the growing number of similar devices.
Although I sincerely doubt Apple is offering much help with the “growing number of similar devices” aspect.