Rupert Murdoch was recently back in New York for the unveiling of his new iPad-based newspaper, The Daily. "Much is riding on it," says The Guardian. From the day he bought his first newspaper, aged 22, "Murdoch has shaken up the world's press, revolutionised television and transformed the way politics is talked about". But digital publishing has eluded his Midas touch. "Until, he hopes, now."
"So here we are enjoying another wild ride on the crazy merry-go-round that is Rupert Murdoch's astonishing career," says Matthew Norman in The Independent. He turns 80 in March and the pace never lets up: the flits between continents in his bespoke 737 are giddying. So what drives him? Probably not even he knows for sure.
He'd eclipsed the accomplishments of his newspaper executive father, Sir Keith Murdoch, by his mid-20s. His wealth (estimated at $9bn) seems to hold his interest only as a measure of business success. And while he evidently relishes his power to bend politicians to his will, and has pronounced right-of-centre libertarian views, he's no ideologue. "When matters of principle and expediency clash... expediency wins every time," says a former colleague. Even now, with world leaders dancing attendance on him, Murdoch sees no irony in describing himself as "anti-establishment".
Subscribe to MoneyWeek
Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE
Murdoch can exude personal charm, but his "natural state", says his biographer, Michael Wolff, in Vanity Fair, is "war". "He relishes conflict and doesn't back down", whether battling his great early rival, Robert Maxwell, for UK tabloid supremacy in the 1970s, defending "Fortress Wapping" from the unions in the 1980s, taking on the might of the US networks to launch Fox, or skirmishing with the Chinese government over his satellite outfit, Star TV. He has the reflexes of a shark, doesn't care what people think of him and keeps an opportunistic eye on their weaknesses. "It's a minute by minute mind. Animalistic. Eat what you kill."
Murdoch's independent streak was evident during his Australian childhood. Sent to board at Geelong Grammar, he rebelled against the military discipline, observes The New Yorker. Later, as an Oxford undergraduate, he displayed a bust of Lenin in his rooms. "The young rebel grew up to be a rebel capitalist."
News Corp remains "a large company run like a small one, with a single individual making big decisions quickly, and for reasons he sometimes does not explain". He can be equally enigmatic in his private affairs. There was genuine shock when he threw over his wife of 30 years, Anna, for the much younger Wendi Deng in 1999.
With none of his children being an obvious replacement for their father, the succession is now "a significant investment risk", says the FT.
Rupert Murdoch somehow seems "timeless and immortal" and there's longevity in his genes: his mother is still going strong at 102, says The Independent. But even Murdoch cannot defy death forever. In all probability, "the News Corp imperium will pass with him".
But will the revolution be crushed?
Will The Daily be "the future of news", or a $30m turkey? There was certainly no shortage of pundits lining up to trash it ahead of its launch. "Oh Rupert, you crazy old lunatic... the idea is doomed," wrote Paul Carr on TechCrunch. What on earth makes him think that the punters whose Paypal dollars he so desperately craves will pay up for the same content they can get free on rival news sites? Murdoch's print publications are haemorrhaging readers "this is the last gasp effort of a man who knows the end is nigh".
Murdoch has a history of internet misadventures (MySpace, Pagesix.com...), but he'll be heartened by The Daily's early customer ratings in the iTunes app store, says Jeff Bercovici on Forbes.com. More than 42% gave it the full five stars. "Those numbers are pretty high as news apps go... good enough to beat, say, The New York Times." Reviewers weren't quite so enamoured: most agree the publication, which isn't available in Britain, "looks snappy but isn't quite the revolutionary leap forward Murdoch & co had made it out to be". The multimedia innovations (including 360 degree pics) were impressive enough, says John Gapper on FT.com, but what The Daily lacks is enough news stories to "provide a reason to subscribe".
Actually, subscription might not be the hurdle it's made out to be, says The Economist. As Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics, points out, 99 cents a week for news could easily pass many people's "what-the-hell" price test, and become an industry benchmark. Rival publishers equally vexed by the 'monetisation' conundrum will be monitoring progress closely, says The Guardian. Murdoch thrives on risk, but this is "a huge roll of the dice", even for him. Still, if he pulls it off, it won't just be News Corp shareholders thanking him.
Who is the richest person in the world?
The top five richest people in the world have a combined net worth of $825 billion. Who takes the crown for the richest person in the world?
By Vaishali Varu Published
Top 10 stocks with highest growth over past decade - from Nvidia, Microsoft to Netflix, which companies made you the most money?
We reveal the 10 global companies with the biggest returns since 2013. One firm has posted an astonishing 9,870% return, meaning a £1,000 investment would now be worth almost £82,000.
By Ruth Emery Published