News Corp. seems set to have a mixed January. While official word came today that subsidiary MySpace is set to layoff close to 500 employees (47% of its current staff), next week sees the public launch of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's long-anticipated iPad-only daily newspaper. According to Cutline, Steve Jobs will be joining Murdoch for the big event currently scheduled for January 19. Expectations for the product are high, even if the target audience to this point has been hypothetical.
The Next Web's Courtney Boyd Meyers outlined the The Daily's likely subscription system in her coverage of today's Jobs news: "'The Daily' is expected to cost .99 per issue and will implement a new 'push' subscription feature from iTunes that automatically bills customers on a weekly or monthly basis, with a new edition delivered to your iPad each morning."
News Corp.'s expectations for the The Daily seem pegged to the hope that convenience, novelty, and that old Apple chic will convince users to go against the now-established assumption that online news and feature content, which is so widely available for free, is not worth paying for. Why part with a dollar a day for The Daily's curation of the news and other media that you and your friends on Facebook and Twitter are already curating for free? You already pay for your internet connection, your data plan, your cable. Will The Daily be such a useful digest of everything you're interested in to be worth the extra 30 bucks a month?
MySpace CEO Mike Jones talked today about that site's goal in becoming an "entertainment destination for Generation Y." I hate to be the one to say it, but half of Generation Y is in the workforce. Will iPadded 20somethings pay for content they can savvily find in a thousand corners of the web for free? Does it make sense that The Daily has to overcome the prevailing expectation that web content is and should be free? (I just navigated to the new MySpace and was immediately greeted with a suggestion to sign up because MySpace is the place to find "All Your Favorites Free. Free games. Free music. Free TV." But we're supposed to be excited about a subscription-based online newspaper locked to one of the many devices we likely use for social browsing?)
If I sound like I was one of those people going around ten years ago saying "music should be free", I wasn't. I haven't forgotten how the experts said "no one will pay .99 for a song" or how all of those experts were wrong. I also haven't forgotten that no one I personally knew was saying that, that most people wanted a cheap, easy, legal way to get digital songs directly from searchable online products. There was a need, and Steve Jobs filled it. That's typically what Steve Jobs does. Deciding whether to steal a song across a peer to peer system or buy one on iTunes involves a fundamentally different set of judgements than the consumer choice facing potential Daily subscribers.
I don't know anyone who feels badly about reading free online content instead of plunking down subscription fees or cover prices for print. There's nothing illegal or ethically ambiguous about reading freely offered content for free instead of paying to read exclusive content. $30 a month for a newspaper, even a really cool, Steve Jobs-enabled one, doesn't feel like a solution to anything. It's neat that creative people built the device and creative people of a whole different skill-set are using it for what will be, I'm sure, an intuitive and even beautiful publication. But unless the endgame is the movement of all relevant content everywhere behind a handful of corporate pay walls (which, of course, is possible), I don't see a long-term gain.
The bottom line, which should trouble News Corp. and their teams at MySpace and The Daily, is that most web users already have a daily newspaper they can read across all of their devices, and it even includes super-localized updates about the people they care most about. It can be custom-tailored, with very little effort, to their specific interests. It's free. It's huge. It's Facebook.