Too many Hoops for Hulu for Magazines?

Next Issue Media has launched a ‘Preview Service’ with seven magazines sold on subscription or as single issues. Next Issue Media has been called the Hulu for magazines and is the creation of Condé Nast, Meredith, Hearst, News Corporation and Time Inc. Only seven magazines currently feature in this Preview Service, but they are top drawer items: The New Yorker, Popular Mechanics, Fortune, Esquire and Time etc. The consortium is advancing on a narrow front both in content selection and in delivery channels, and at this point only the Android operating system, but no phones, and the only tablet device is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Narrower still: since at this point the magazines are only available via the Verizon WiFi service and an app in the Vcast (Verizon) app store. But more magazines and more channels are promised for the autumn (more details at MediaMemo — Peter Kafka).

There are plenty of difficulties in running consortia, and I take my hat off to the NIM team for getting something out of the door when all the backing companies will inevitably have very different views on how the terms shall be crafted, and wary of precedents being set. Perhaps for this reason they are at this stage offering ‘monthly subscriptions’ and ‘single issue purchases’. Supporting two very different access/license models indefinitely could get very complicated. Its also complicated for consumers that, depending on the title, ‘existing print subscribers are eligible for a free or discounted digital upgrade’. If a subscriber to two print titles gets free access to the New Yorker but has to pay a digital upgrade for his sub to Popular Mechanics, NIM’s customer support lines will soon be red hot. Building a system that manages all this reliably, will not be a trivial undertaking. And the consortium will lose its way if the magazine access model is not standardised across all the titles served, when 100s of magazines are on offer. Allowing publishers to set the price of their services is one thing but allowing the publishers to set different access models and subscription rights is fraught with difficulties.

It is going to be a challenge for this Hulu for magazines to achieve the Hulu-style popular momentum that they will need to secure the continuing support of their backers. But they do have a chance, because their backers are strong media players, all with an interest in maintaining some leverage over other players who will be driving digital consumer acquisition. Having a ‘tame’ Android platform with some market penetration will be useful for all these publishers. But consider the range of devices that Next Issue Media will be playing with or against. These will include:

  1. Apple for the iPad (in pole position)
  2. Apple for the iPhone (not to be overlooked as its a somewhat different delivery proposition)
  3. Amazon for Kindle
  4. Amazon for soon to emerge Android App store (and likely Amazon media-consumption Tablet). Amazon may have several tablet form factors.
  5. Barnes and Noble magazines on Nook and next generation Android tab
  6. Android app store (ie the Google managed app store, with flavours for several levels of Android phone/tablet). Lets call this 6a, 6b, 6c…..
  7. Blackberry Playbook platform (with its own set of ‘Android’ complications)
  8. HP Web/OS (Next Issue Media say that they will support this before the end of the year)
  9. Nokia/Microsoft tablets when they come…

We have at least nine different platforms right off the bat, and the chances are that there are several more, some with a significant spin that we don’t know about yet, that could play a part in the digital magazine market next year. Who says strategic planning for digital magazines is a straightforward business?

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