iPad-only magazine aims for 50 million subscriber base

In one of the most highly anticipated media launches in years, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday unveiled the first edition of his iPad-only newspaper the Daily, saying the tablet “demands that we completely reimagine our craft.”

The Daily, whose yearly subscription will be $39.99, went on sale Wednesday at Apple’s apps store. The Daily will feature more than 100 pages of news, features, sports and puzzles each day, updating throughout the day as news demands, with 360 degree photography and HD video.

Standing on stage in a theater at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Murdoch told more than 100 journalists and guests: “We can and we must make the business of news gathering and editing viable again. We are entering a remarkable age of innovation, a digital renaissance…Because the Daily is not a legacy brand moving from print to the digital world, we have license to experiment, a commitment to innovate and an ability to evolve and respond to our customers’ needs.”

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been very supportive of Murdoch’s efforts to launch the Daily and it had been expected Jobs would be on hand at the launch until he took a leave of absence to address his health issues. Murdoch told the audience Jobs called him on the fly when he was in London last week after Jobs had seen the Daily in beta and said he was “flattering.” Apple’s iPad will carry the Daily exclusively for up to two years before it is available on other tablets.

In addition to a yearly subscription, readers can also choose to billed weekly at 99 cents (Initially News Corp. will keep 70 cents and Apple gets most of the rest). In a special promotion, the first two weeks of the subscription are being provided free courtesy of Verizon.

The speed to launch has been nothing short of exceptional. Murdoch woke up one morning in July thinking that the future of journalism would be the tablet. He summoned the-then managing editor of his New York Post, Jesse Angelo, to begin the task of creating a digital newspaper from scratch. In just eight months, the first issue scrolled across the screen. By comparison, it took Gannett two years from conception to launch with USA Today, which first rolled off the presses in September, 1982.

Murdoch made the point of expressing how much he liked the economics of the Daily, “no multimillion presses, no paper and no trucks.” The investment so far has been $30 million with a staff of more than 100, including publisher Greg Clayman, who he recruited from a top digital post at MTV Networks. The Post’s former Page Six editor Richard Johnson will spearhead entertainment coverage for the Daily from Los Angeles.

The paper will cost less than half a million dollars to put out every week, this before a single ad or subscription dollar is collected, Murdoch said. “Our target audience is the more than 50 million Americans who are expected to own tablets in the next year or so,” he said. Editor Angelo said iPad users spend on average 45 minutes a day using the tablet, a habit he described as “incredible.”

When asked later on Wednesday by Fox Business anchor Neil Cavuto whether the Daily would have a political bent, Murdoch responded: “It’s a very patriotic American newspaper, that newspaper that believes in free thinking and free markets and freedom for everybody. And you can read what’d you like into that.” Asked by Cavuto how many subs it will take to break even on the Daily, Murdoch said: “Half a million. But we are not talking about half a million. I want to beat American Idol.”

Wednesday’s debut issue featured a lead story on Egypt with crisp photos, as well as Super Bowl coverage featuring photos and stats from every game played. Fans will also be able to customize sports for their favorite teams and players. One feature for entertainment will deliver access to Twitter feeds from the stars.

The main navigational feature is called the “carousel,” from which stories are visually displayed on tiles. The Daily allows users to scroll the sections with their fingers. Stories can be conveyed in video and audio formats. A feature enables users to quickly share stories on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to written comments, users can leave audio comments on stories.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s veep of Internet services, was in attendance as well as Jon Miller, News Corp. chief digital officer, who said News Corp. knows it is not just competing with other digital news but with “Angry Birds” for consumers’ attention.

News Corp.’s stock was up 37 cents to $17.46 in midday trading Wednesday.

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