Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Google Tries Rebooting Its Flipboard Clone, and Starts Selling the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal

google play newsstandA couple of years ago it seemed very important for every big consumer Web company to have its own version of Flipboard, the mobile app that lets you assemble your own digital magazine. AOL launched Editions, Yahoo offered Livestand, and Google tried Currents.

Fast forward to present tense, where Flipboard still seems very interesting to some people, but the concept of “social reader” app no longer seems like a no-brainer. Livestand is dead, Editions is all but dead, and if you’ve used Currents you are likely a professional publisher, not an actual reader.

But Google isn’t giving up on the idea yet. It is folding Currents into a new app that’s supposed to be a reading service and a magazine and newspaper store.

Google said Google Play Newsstand will offer more than 1,900 publications, from free blogs to the New York Times. The idea is that Google will create a personalized feed that mixes and matches stories about topics you’re interested in, and will also give you complete access to each publication you follow and/or subscribe to.

You can also subscribe to publications directly from the app, via Google’s payment system. Google has previously sold magazine subscriptions for publishers like Hearst, Conde Nast and Time Warner’s Time Inc. through its Google Play Magazine, which will also get morphed into the Newsstand app. The fact that Google is selling newspaper subscriptions is new, though, and publishers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (which is owned by News Corp., which also owns this website) are offering sale prices to try to goose signups.*

The concept of a giant digital newsstand was also very interesting a few years ago. But with some exceptions, publisher reactions to the Newsstand app Apple launched a few years ago has been muted. (It’s worth noting that the Financial Times, which refused to sell digital subscriptions via iTunes, is working with Google; it’s the first time the FT has sold digital subscriptions through an outside vendor.)

And conventional wisdom holds that Android users are less likely to pay for content than people who use Apple devices. So while it (probably) can’t hurt to have the world’s biggest tech company selling your stuff, odds are this won’t be a needle-mover for publishers.

* Do read the fine print before you pull the trigger on a Google Newsstand subscription. If you buy the Times via the app, for instance, you’ll only be able to read the digital paper in Google’s app, and not on the Times’ own Android and iOS apps. But if you buy a digital subscription to the Times via other outlets, you will be able to read the paper within Newsstand. Make sense? No? I don’t get it, either.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik