Magazine publishers are banding together to create some sort of partnership to fend off future attacks from mobile devices, reports Peter Kafka at Media Memo.
The partnership is being led by Time Inc., with Conde Nast, and Hearst agreeing to participate. Kafka calls it a “Hulu for magazines.”
The idea: The new company, which will operate independently from the publishers that invest in it, will create a digital storefront where consumers can purchase and manage their subscriptions that can be delivered to any device. The pitch: Control a direct relationship with consumers, while gaining leverage with heavyweights like Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN).
It seems more like an iTunes than a Hulu to us, and it faces many challenges.
Publishers won’t simply put their magazine stories into this partnership. Publishers are aware that people don’t want to pay for web access to print stories. Instead, they want to create all new content that takes advantage of the new devices, which means they have to reinvent themselves.
Publishers have no idea what the devices of the future will look like, either. Apple won’t talk about the tablet it’s supposed to be working on, so these publishers don’t know how they’re going to take advantage of the new medium. That means it will be a few years before they can really exploit the medium. In interim, consumers would have to decide if they’re willing to shell out for content that’s in a beta phase of development.
Further complicating matters, Apple and Kindle have a tight grip on the store fronts to their devices. To get on an iPhone, you need to go through iTunes. To get into a Kindle, you need to go through Amazon’s store. We don’t see why either company wants to cede this ground. If the devices are as powerful and popular as Apple and Amazon think they will be, then they’ll have the control.
If Time, Conde and Hearst aren’t willing to provide content, it only helps startups that will produce all new original material. Again, these publishers plan on starting at square zero, just like anyone else.
Despite the flaws in the plan, we admire the ambition. These magazine businesses are shrinking. Standing still isn’t an option.