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News Corp.'s Digital Future: The Jetsons or The Flintstones?

Posted by Sheila Shayon on November 25, 2010 01:00 PM

Rupert Murdoch, the poster boy for old-school journalism, has just invested $30 million in an iPad-centric diigtal newspaper, The Daily. Seeing the digital tablet as the new printing press, Murdoch has said The Daily is his “Number one most exciting project,” a sentiment echoed by son James who called it “our flagship project.”

News Corp., a staunch defender of paid content in digital times, sees the iPad as the path to regain revenue for news. As the Daily Telegraph's editor, Garry Linnell, comments in an interview with Mumbrella above, the iPad has helped take News Ltd’s online journalism in Australia “from the Flintstones to the Jetsons.”

With his so-called iNewspaper coming to the iPad next month, Murdoch's looking to digitize and monetize the rest of his empire.

News Corp.'s experiments in digital are being watched closely. In the UK, the Times of London and the Sunday Times went behind a pay wall in July, and reportedly received about 100,000 payments in the first four months.

Now all eyes are turning to The Daily, with an estimated $30 million launch budget and staff of 100. Slated to emerge in beta around Christmas and go public in early 2011, the weekly cost will be 99 cents, $4.25/month, or $52.00/year. There will be no print or web edition, but, contrary to rumor, it will work on multiple brands of tablet computers. Speculation is that The Daily will inaugurate a recurring subscription billing model on iTunes.

Apple engineers worked with News Corp to build a key feature of this next-generation newspaper: the ability to push it to subscribers. No more launching of apps and daily downloads; editions of The Daily will be downloaded upon release.

Staffing to date includes Sasha Frere-Jones, the music critic of The New Yorker; Steve Alperin, television producer and Richard Johnson, the former editor of the New York Post’s Page Six. The majority of content will be original, and bucking conventional digital ecosystems, there will be no links to or from other websites. Naturally, as with most moves Murdoch makes, skepticism abounds.

In a separate but convergent move, News Corp. will acquire 90% of Wireless Generation, an education technology firm, for about $360 million. "When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone," said Murdoch.

Founded in 2000, Wireless Generation enables teachers to assess student’s progress and deliver individual instruction and professional services via mobile and web software.

Murdoch is clearly covering all the bases in his vision of a digital future for journalism and education. But with consumers accustomed to free news online, especially swapping links freely via social media, will readers follow?

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