Can Newspapers Survive the Digital Publishing Transition?

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News Corp’s The Daily, an interactive newspaper for the iPad, has shed new light on the expenses of digital publishing, having racked up 800,000 downloads at the cost of a cool $40 million. But whether a slick, glossy presence on tablet PCs is enough to save the newspaper business from capsizing as readership goes increasing virtual still remains undetermined.

This first of its kind publication for slate computers, which cost $30 million to develop prior to launch, recently incurred another $10 million loss, according to the company’s latest quarterly report. Of the respectable, but hardly earth-shattering number of readers thus far, no indication has been given regarding how many are recipients of free trials as opposed to paying subscribers.

The Daily is rumored to be making its way onto Android tablets soon. This effort to establish a tablet-PC-exclusive, subscription-based digital news service is seen by many as a bellwether for the newspaper publishing industry. Folk wisdom holds that if it can successfully find its niche, the digital newspaper may point toward a brighter future for the declining business. If not, it may serve as a proverbial canary in a coal mine, warning that efforts at digital news reporting may need to evolve fast if there’s hope of surviving the transition to portable devices.