Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

"Hulu For Magazines" Opens Its Android Newsstand

Apple has won over some of the big magazine publishers, who have reached deals to sell subscriptions via iTunes. But it’s not an exclusive arrangement: Now the magazine guys are starting to sell on Google’s Android, too.

Starting Wednesday, some Samsung Galaxy tablet users will be able to buy app versions of seven magazines, as single copies or monthly subscriptions. The deal comes via Next Issue Media, the “Hulu for Magazines” consortium five big publishers put together to build their own digital newsstand.

This is a cautious first step, with lots of caveats, and Next Issue is taking pains to play down expectations, calling it an “early preview.”

And by my calendar, it’s a bit behind Next Issue’s previously announced plans to have something in the market early this year.

But it’s still something. And you could argue that while the digital magazine market formally kicked off last year when Apple introduced the iPad, it’s been moving pretty slowly since then. So Next Issue really hasn’t missed that much.

Details:

  • Four of the consortium’s partners are selling titles: Esquire and Popular Mechanics from Hearst; Fitness and Parents from Meredith; the New Yorker from Conde Nast; and Fortune and Time from Time Warner’s Time Inc. News Corp., the other partner, doesn’t publish any print magazines (they do own this Web site, though).
  • Prices are set by publishers, who will be able to offer existing print subscribers free digital editions. For now, though, they can’t offer new subscribers print + digital bundles like the ones that Conde Nast has started selling via iTunes. Next Issue CEO Morgan Guenther says that’s coming, along with the possibility of more interesting offers, like Netflix-style subscriptions that let customers swap titles in and out.
  • The titles are only available to Galaxy owners who have bought a model with wireless service from Verizon, which sells the titles through a single app available in its Vcast app store.
  • Next Issue plans to offer more magazines, on more devices, in the fall. CEO Morgan Guenther says that by the end of the year the consortium will be selling at least 40 titles, and should also have a version of its app available for HP’s WebOS.
  • Apple gives publishers 70 percent of each transaction, and Guenther says magazine publishers will get “at least” that much; device-makers or carriers will split the rest with the consortium.
  • Crucially, the publishers will get full access to all subscriber information, including credit card numbers. Apple won’t do that.

Again, these magazines will only be available to a subset of a subset of Android tablet owners, which isn’t that big a market to begin with, for now.

But it is a working demonstration of the concept the consortium promised way back in 2009: A single place to get magazines from multiple publishers, controlled by the publishers themselves.

And theoretically, selling magazines on the terms they want on Android will give the publishers more leverage to get what they want from Apple. But they’re a long way from getting Steve Jobs to back down from his terms–let’s see how sales play out on the two different platforms first.


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