Radiohead and research versus Rupert Murdoch and The Daily

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Or how a rock band schooled Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson.

On February 14th Radiohead announced the release of their new album The King of Limbs. You can pre-order it here if you’re so inclined.

Radiohead The King Of Limbs

I was reading a brief article today in which the band’s manager was quoted as saying – “Our allegiances are to the band. We manage Radiohead, we don’t manage retail or labels, we just manage the band and are just trying to do the best possible thing to allow another brilliant record to be embraced by the fanbase.” I like that sentiment for many reasons.

Something else I read recently that I like for many reasons is this – “Society is engaged in the present with solving problems of the past.” That’s a quote by the social scientist Jonathan Haidt taken from a NY Times article in February. In a TEDx talk that I gave last week at the University of Oregon’s White Stag building in Portland, I paraphrased Haidt’s quote – “Rupert Murdoch is engaged in the present in solving the financial problems of print media companies.

Bear with me – I’m weaving together two parallel tracks here.

Track one is how Radiohead has dispensed with the music industry’s problems of the past and moved on, as long ago as 2007, when they released their album In Rainbows without using staid old music industry methods. After researching and learning from that successful experiment, they have now announced the release of their new album, applying the findings and user data from the previous release. The beneficiaries of that research are the band’s fans. Radiohead learned how best to deliver their new music by creating a balance; of content, available in different formats, alongside a sliding scale of economic value of the good. A balance that satisfies the band’s fiscal needs with their fan’s desire for the new album, coupled with the knowledge of how they want to receive it based on research.

Track two is how Rupert Murdoch and his team at News Corporation, are engaged in the present with solving the cashflow problems of media publishing companies. At the initial launch of this wonderful new device, Steve Jobs, a man who should know better, trumpeted the iPad as the savior of newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, media companies took him at his word and proceeded to deliver a head-spinning array of iPad apps that failed miserably at not only delivering content as we would like to receive it, but also without designing specifically for the iPad platform. The creators of these apps appear to midunderstand, or simply haven’t yet discovered, how people actually use the iPad or how they would like to access news on it – instead they are building apps that generally try to recreate a “newspaper experience” in digital.

Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, is just the latest in a long line of app failures on the iPad – see Vanity Fair, Richard Branson’s Project Magazine, The Atlantic; even the New York Times app isn’t as user-friendly as their website is in Safari on the iPad. I say failure if the criteria is “does this app solve the problem of how I would like to receive the news or media articles on a tablet?” Or as Joshua Benton asks – “Who is The Daily trying to reach? What problem is it trying to solve?

Well Jesse Angelo who runs The Daily, answered the first question during a press conference. He said, everyone! The answer to the second question is straightforward – The Daily is about preserving cashflow at News Corp. They either didn’t do any user research to determine how we would use an app like The Daily – or they simply don’t care. In other words, it’s good enough. Or as Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter said to Virginia Heffernan of the NY Times, after she “..asked about the app glitches through a spokeswoman — and (Graydon) Carter himself set me straight by e-mail: “The actual reading experience is superb on our app, which is what matters to us most.

That’s what matters to them most. Which is why I just dropped $48.00 on the new Radiohead deluxe album package and I wouldn’t spend a penny on a Vanity Fair iPad app, or The Daily for that matter. And the wonderful irony is that the band describes the deluxe packaging as a “newspaper album.” Such wags.

We live in interesting times. When The Guardian has an article with a headline that asks “Will Radiohead’s The King of Limbs save the music industry?” You have to laugh. Why would they want to do that? And so it is with the iPad apps and the media publishing industry “Will Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily save the newspaper and magazine industry?” Well, that’s no laughing matter.

This post originally appeared as Radiohead Versus Media Companies and the iPad.

Research links:

iPad Mags Need a New Blueprint

My iPad Magazine Stand – Khoi Vinh

Nieman Journalism Lab

Closed Publishing Apps? I Don’t Get It

The Daily a Tablet Newspaper For Everybody (There they go again…)

This Is Violence – The Daily

Design Trumps Content in Launch of First Tablet Newspaper

Murdoch’s The Daily and the AoL Way

The Daily iPad app gets mixed reviews

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I haven’t had time to play with the new Rupert Murdoch-backed iPad app, The Daily, so until I do I’ll have to rely on what other folks are saying. Apparently $30 million was dropped on the development of the app so someone has their fingers crossed that this will work. Putting aside for a moment whether The Daily has solved the UX/UI problems that media publishers have struggled with on the iPad platform, I’m sure it won’t go unnoticed that The Daily certainly doesn’t solve or address how we like to get our news delivered these days. It may be good news for Murdoch that I haven’t yet heard the howls of derision that greeted Richard Branson’s Project iPad app.

Here’s a few reviews I came across:

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber
“Nothing groundbreaking, but better than most such efforts to date. The ‘carousel’ feature — more or less Cover Flow view for pages in the current issue — is incredibly laggy. I can’t believe they shipped it like this. Scrolling elsewhere is OK, I guess, but nowhere near as fast as it should be in a native app. I think the rest of the app at first feels faster than it really is because the carousel — which is the default navigation — is so crushingly slow. (And the page thumbnails in the carousel are horrendously JPEG-compressed. I can’t even imagine how slow it would be if the thumbnails actually looked good.)”

The Huffington Post’s Larry Magid
“The company says it plans to update the online newspaper throughout the day, but there was no evidence of that on day one. The cover story, ‘Falling Pharaoh,’ did a pretty good job of covering yesterday’s news including the subhead ‘Obama pushes Mubarak to quit now as a million march in Egypt revolution.’ That was accompanied by some gorgeous photos from yesterday’s demonstrations and some sidebars about activism in Syria and Jordan and a profile of Mubarak’s sons. All of this was great but as I was reading it, TV and radio news and all of the web-based news services were telling today’s news, about counter-protests in Tahrir Square and violent clashes between pro and anti-Mubarak demonstrators. I found none of this in The Daily nor did I see any reports about Egypt turning the Internet back-on; a subject that I and multiple other online journalists had already covered.”

Slate’s Jack Shafer
“Is the iPad really a new medium? Or is it just a new business model? Every media form that can be served on an iPad can be served on a laptop—text, photos, the 360-degree photos that Murdoch got so excited about in the press conference, audio, and video. The only tablet advances are portability, form factor, and touch-screen navigation—all very big, mind you, but as technological advances go, the leap from laptop to tablet isn’t as great as the one from 78s to 33 1/3s.”

The Telegraph’s Shane Richmond
“I’ve had a few hours with The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper. One thought strikes me above all others: if this is the best that journalism’s brightest brains can do, given a huge budget and input from Apple itself then we’re in worse trouble than I thought.”

The Washington Post’s Rob Pegoraro
“Reading the Daily can involve a certain amount of sluggishness. The ‘carousel’ interface that greets you when you launch it lags behind your gestures, and some turns of an onscreen page also leave you waiting for a moment. I also noticed one outright bug: With the Daily open, an iPad would not shut off its screen automatically, quickly draining its battery.”

The New Yorker’s Blake Eskin
“The Daily will have to evolve, in its content and also in its form. Right now, it feels like a hybrid of the New York Post, the iTunes store, and elements of other iPad periodicals: slide show, video, infographics. Nothing yet can be called a true breakthrough, but this blend can come off nicely: when viewed in cover-flow mode, the type gets compressed in a way that recalls smudgy ink on newsprint, and there’s an editorial logic behind the moving photograph that zooms out from a detail of Tahrir Square to reveal Cairo at dusk around the brightly lit crowd.”

CNET’s Rafe Needleman
“A spin with The Daily shows Murdoch’s fondness for the old form, but in subtle ways. While this ‘paper’ isn’t anything like a traditional print daily–it’s got video, audio, interactive games, and a can-can carousel view of stories–reading it does evoke the old experience of settling down with a printed broadsheet, in ways that the online versions of existing newspapers don’t quite capture. Most importantly, The Daily isn’t a repackager of existing online news. The Daily is a genuine, new newspaper, with its own staff and the big budget (minus the expenses of printing and distributing) that running a newsroom entails.”

More here.