Peter Kafka

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Condé Nast’s Offering for Apple’s Mystery Tablet: Wired Magazine

cover_wired_190Here’s yet another content creator convinced that Apple has a tablet device in the works: Condé Nast says it will have a digital version of Wired magazine ready for the rumored gadget by the middle of next year and will eventually create similar versions for all of its 18 titles.

But Condé, like other publishers, says Apple (AAPL) won’t actually talk to the company about its plans for the device, or even acknowledge that it has plans.*

Condé’s plan, meanwhile, is to create digital versions of its magazines that will work on all the upcoming tablets, using new software from Adobe (ADBE). Those tablets aren’t actually on the market yet, but the publisher says it’s confident that we’ll soon see multiple versions of machines featuring large color touchscreens and wireless connections.

So who’s going to make those gadgets? Condé Nast CEO Chuck Townsend says his company is working closely with Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and that it has also been communicating its plans to Apple. But Townsend made a point of saying that Apple executives themselves refuse to acknowledge that they’re actually planning a tablet: “They’re not talking to anybody openly,” he says.

Adobe is creating a publishing tool for the new format, as well as magazine-reader software that may come pre-installed on the devices or may require a download. The software company says it is working exclusively with Condé now, but will offer its tools to other publishers next year.

[Important technical point several readers have brought up: Adobe says its new reader software will run using its AIR platform, which works on multiple operating systems, including Apple’s desktop system. But neither AIR nor Adobe’s flash software works on Apple’s iPhone, so if the new mystery device runs on that operating system, there’s a problem. I’m following up with Adobe to see what it has to say. UPDATE: Here’s Adobe’s response.]

Condé says its work with Adobe won’t preclude the company from joining the “Hulu for magazines” storefront/distribution joint venture it has been discussing with Time Warner’s (TWX) Time Inc. and other publishers. “Those discussions are ongoing and important and imminent,” Townsend says.

Okay. So what will Condé’s magazines look like once the tablets appear? The publisher has been showing a demo video to advertisers, industry executives and employees, and I’m trying to convince the company to show it to the rest of the world. (UPDATE: Here’s a partial, low-quality version of the video).

But until then, you can get a sense of it by checking out the publisher’s first attempt to port a magazine to the iPhone, which was released today at the iTunes App Store.

Like the iPhone version of GQ’s December issue, Condé says its tablet magazines will feature the same content found in the print versions, including original advertising, with the ability to view pages in their original form or in formats designed specifically for the device. They will also import multimedia content, like videos, and offer the ability to synch up with social networks and other Web sites.

Condé also thinks the business model for its tablet mags will mirror that of its iPhone app. The company intends to charge readers for each title, and it plans to convince the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the magazine industry’s standards board, that its online sales are equivalent to newsstand sales. That will allow Condé to charge advertisers the same rate as for print ads.

If all of this works, it’s a dream scenario for Condé and other publishers. The magazine industry gets to keep the revenue streams its print publications generate without having to make the “analog dollars for digital pennies” discount that the Web requires. Meanwhile, Condé gets to bask in the benefits of digital–lower distribution costs, more engagement with readers.

Or put another way: Publishers hope the new devices will repair all the value destruction the Web has wrought.

But all of this assumes that consumers, who’ve shown no inclination to pay for this stuff on the Web, will be willing to pay for it once it appears on devices no one owns yet. We’ll find out soon enough.

*One possible exception is the New York Times (NYT), where editor Bill Keller refuses to talk about possible talks with Steve Jobs and company.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus