Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Now’s the Time, Finally: Publishers Announce Their “Hulu for Magazines.” Next Up: Building It.

So here you go: The magazine industry is finally ready to announce that it is forming a joint venture to distribute and sell digital versions of its products.

There is an information-free press release at the bottom of this page, but the story is more or less the one I’ve been telling you about for a couple months:

  • Time Warner’s (TWX) Time Inc and four other publishers–Condé Nast, Meredith, Hearst and News Corp. (NWS)–will be equity partners in the JV.
  • For now, Time Inc. digital boss John Squires will run the unnamed JV, which is conducting a CEO search, and he would like the job on a permanent basis.
  • The JV may take on other strategic or financial partners, though Squires thinks it can go forward as is without worrying about antitrust issues.
  • All of this is conceptual at this stage; the companies now need to go about the business of actually assembling technology that will let them do this.
  • All of those digital products that the JV’s publishers have been showing off–Condé Nast’s digital reader, built with Adobe (ADBE); Time Inc.’s mock-up of a digital magazine, etc.–are all well and good, but Squires thinks that eventually the JV will need to settle on a single standard. That’s one of the main points, really: “One would imagine a sort of common publishing infrastructure, because we don’t want to spend money five different ways.”

Some people don’t like my description of this as “Hulu for Magazines,” but let me spell it out for them: Like Hulu, this is a joint venture of content owners that is designed to control distribution and sale of their product instead of ceding that to digital powerhouses like Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN). Easy to understand, right?

The question is: Will Apple and Amazon, in particular, let others control the sale of digital media to their devices via Apple’s and Amazon’s storefronts? Publishing executives I’ve talked think that Apple may end up being receptive to the idea, but Amazon is clearly going to be a problem.

Squires notes hopefully that Amazon already lets publishers sell physical magazine subscriptions via the retailer, but that’s meaningless: Amazon has clearly designed the Kindle and surrounding infrastructure to be an end-to-end experience, and so far, the company has been able to get publishers to play along. But if Squires’s JV ends up working as planned, publishers will have enough clout to set their own terms.

LEADING PUBLISHERS FORM VENTURE TO OFFER CONSUMERS NEW DIGITAL STOREFRONT AND PORTABLE READING EXPERIENCE

Initiative Will also Offer Marketers Rich Array of Innovative Advertising Opportunities

New York, NY, December 8, 2009 – Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corporation and Time Inc. today jointly announced that they have entered into an independent venture to develop open standards for a new digital storefront and related technology that will allow consumers to enjoy their favorite media content on portable digital devices.

The goal of this digital initiative is fourfold, to create: a highly featured common reading application capable of rendering the distinctive look and feel of each publication; a robust publishing platform optimized for multiple devices, operating systems and screen sizes; a consumer storefront offering an extensive selection of reading options; and a rich array of innovative advertising opportunities.

Beyond the publications of the equity partners, the venture will welcome other publishers to offer their content via this new digital platform. Publishers will derive revenue from content and advertising sales, as well as from print subscriptions.

“For the consumer, this digital initiative will provide access to an extraordinary selection of engaging content products, all customized for easy download on the device of their choice, including smartphones, e-readers and laptops,” explained John Squires, the venture’s interim managing director. “Once purchased, this content will be ‘unlocked’ for consumers to enjoy anywhere, anytime, on any platform.”

For publishers and advertisers, the venture will offer an attractive, cost-efficient, consumer-focused environment. Advertisers will be able to utilize innovative formats that benefit from the highly engaging, interactive nature of this new medium. In addition to entirely new magazine and newspaper reading experiences, content selections may ultimately include books, comic books, blogs and other media.

For the hardware, software and retail industries, the initiative will provide dynamic new business opportunities by organizing a library of quality content with a common format and technical specifications. The venture partners represent an unduplicated audience of 144.6 million according to Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI).  By the end of 2010, Forrester Research estimates that 10 million e-readers will be sold in the U.S., and according to m:Metrics (comScore), there will be over 50 million smartphones in the U.S. by the end of 2010.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald