Why News Corp. Innovates ‘Under the Radar’

By Scott Kirsner |  January 31, 2014

What if you tried something radical but didn’t attach your brand to it? The new venture doesn’t get the benefit of being associated with a “known quantity” in the market — but it does have a chance to flop or fly on its own merits.

That’s the stealthy approach they’re taking at News Corp., the Manhattan-based publishing company. News Corp.’s properties include book imprint HarperCollins, the Wall Street Journal, digital education company Amplify Education, and newspapers in Australia, Britain, and the US.

“We don’t want to plaster the Times of London or Wall Street Journal brand onto everything,” says Nick Bell, senior vice president of product at News Corp. “It can be beneficial to get traction, but when you have cash and you’ve got the brand reputation we have, we could almost make a small success out of everything. Even if you’ve got a terrible product, you can get it in front of people.”

So when News Corp. incubates new products these days, they do it in a more organic way — and without trumpeting the connection to existing brands. “We’re iterating, and taking a lean approach which may succeed and may fail. But if they fail, they’ll not fail publicly. If they succeed, they’ll do it without having the Wall Street Journal brand attached to it.” Bell says that the company has several live products today “which we don’t talk about.” And others are in the works.

“There’s a budget set aside to market them,” he says. “When we feel they’re ready for prime time, we can scale things very quickly, with people, money and technology infrastructure.” If the nascent ideas don’t work out, “we’ll kill them,” he says.

One counter-example to that quiet approach was a newspaper called The Daily that News Corp. created especially for the iPad. It was promoted with a Super Bowl ad in early 2011, but shut down in December of 2012. Given all the promotion and the media coverage of “Rupert Murdoch’s iPad newspaper,” it ended up being a very high-profile experiment that just didn’t work. (Murdoch is News Corp.’s executive chairman.) “We were trying to launch something very disruptive, but a key challenge was that the audience of iPad owners wasn’t big enough,” Bell says.

“We’re just taking a different approach now,” he says. “I can assure you that there won’t be a Super Bowl ad for any of our projects this Sunday.”

(You can see some of the innovations News Corp. does talk about here. Bell is on Twitter: @nickbelluk, and his website is here.)