Netly: The Third Screen

Archive for the ‘magazine consortium’ Category

After months of negotiation, a publishing consortium has come together aimed at serving the new world of tablets and e-readers. According to Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore:

Today, five leading publishers including Time Inc., Conde Nast, Meredith, Hearst and News Corporation announced the formation of a new venture to develop a digital storefront and a common reading application that will allow consumers to enjoy their favorite magazine and newspaper content on any platform they choose.

We already know that the next generation of mobile devices will be loaded with color touchscreens, flexible displays, video capabilities and other features that will make them ideal for consuming rich content and an appealing environment for advertisers. These devices will allow us to combine the best of what consumers love about magazines – quality, curated journalism, engaging content and beautiful photography – with the speed, convenience and portability of the latest technology.

The consortium has its work cut out for it—I’ll lay out a few of the hurdles facing it in a later post. But before I get to that, I’d like to make a crazy recommendation: The first thing it should do is buy the JooJoo.

It’s a foregone conclusion that, given the litigious back story between Mike Arrington and Fusion Garage—both of whom are asserting ownership of the device—that it’ll never see the light of day. This thing will be buried under a blizzard of lawsuits, and by the time it’s unearthed, we’ll all be toting around HD monofilament displays provided free by Google to anyone who gets the Google implant in their heads…

But this outcome can be avoided, boys. Call off the lawyers, and sell the thing to the consortium!

Here’s why:

When you watch the demo video of the JooJoo, the first thing that strikes you—aside from how cool the device looks—is how poorly it works on the Web! It’s slow, clunky and, for Web work at least, you really want a keyboard.

By contrast, it would be so much better as a Kindle killer—an e-reader of the first order. Seriously: Imagine reading this on that. Instead of browsing the Web, imagine downloading magazines, books and other media to it. Imagine if the gazillions of subscribers to the consortium’s magazines and newspapers were able to get one of these things for under $200, in exchange for subscriptions.

The JooJoo could address an even bigger issue for the publishers. One of the biggest problems magazine (and newspaper) makers have, in envisioning the future, is it’s a rapidly moving target. Who do we develop for? Which devices? Do we build for the rumored Apple iThing? Do we build in Flash/Air? Do we make our mags and newspapers in HTML5? Having a tablet right now would save us all a huge amount of trouble and guess work, and allow us to build our businesses faster.

The consortium, after all, is all about control. If that’s the way the publishing companies want to go, control over the device is of paramount importance and will be a game changer, not to mention a time saver.

iphoneSmart move by Conde Nast today: The magazine publisher of Wired, Vogue, the New Yorker and others announced it would start porting over entire magazines—not vertical slices or website apps, like other publishers have done thus far—to the iPhone. First up is the men’s mag, GQ, which Conde says will be ready to go in December, for $2.99 an issue—$2 less than the newsstand price. Nat Ives has the scoop in Ad Age, and Peter Kafka has a good take at AllThingsD.

Conde is doing a number of things right here.

1. It called bullshit on the notion that appgazines should enjoy the same crap CPMs as websites. I’ve been saying this all along, because if you stop and think about it, you’ll see that these new products ought to represent the best of both the print and online worlds. If someone subscribes to a digital magazine, and reads it—and it’s delivered on a lovely color tablet—the full-page ads ought to generate the same CPM as print. Indeed, Conde figured out that these new mags should be even more valuable since these new ad formats will also provide engagement metrics (pageview/clickthru and so on) to the whole dilly. So Conde is valuing this media as print CPM PLS online CPM.
2. It’s creating its own platform for making digital magaziness. I’m assuming reusable templates for magazine pages and something that will help advertisers hack together their own ad pages. But who knows? The point is, if this works, they have a model in place that will, one assumes, scale and encompass all its titles, and advertisers.
3. It’s preparing for the new Apple Jesus Tablet. If you think this is just about the iPhone, you haven’t been paying attention. This is aimed at Whatever It Is that Apple is rumored to be announcing in Q1. That said, I am haunted by a conversation I had a few months ago with a very senior guy at Apple. “If I thought the iPhone was all you guys were coming out with in this space, I wouldn’t be so interested,” I said. Senior Guy replied: “Then you’d be making an enormous mistake.” I read this to mean, build for the iPhone and your product will be even better on whatever Apple comes out with next. Which is what Conde is doing.

I have a few questions, though. For starters, I can’t wait to see the product since I know that simply porting over, say, the PDFs of your pages ain’t going to cut it. Unless you’re able to perform some serious mojo—extracting the text and reflowing images and so on to make everything more readable on the tiny screen—PDFs don’t work. I’d also like to learn about how much extra production will go into each issue—Conde just fired a bunch of folks. How many will it need to hire back to retrofit GQ for the small screen?

Does this mean that Conde won’t be in the much-discussed, yet-to-be-seen magazine coalition that Time Inc. is said to be organizing? Not necessarily, I guess. There’s no reason why you can’t pursue both at the same time. And clearly, Apple taking 30 percent is so much better than the alternative: Roughly 50% of the cost of making a magazine is related to printing it and distributing it. So if you could immediately convert your rate base to Apple users, and let Apple handle the transaction, you’d be rolling in clover…

And finally, if my old pal Chris Anderson, editor of Wired is out there… I’d love to hear what you think about all this. I’m wondering if the fact that Wired isn’t the guinea pig an indication of where you stand on the question of separate digital magazines… I believe you’re an unreconstructed Googleite, after all, and may believe that the best iteration of Wired on a third-screen device is, open and browser based rather than delivered by subscription. Also Chris: Links or no links?

Peter Kafka had a good piece today, as did Nat Ives at Ad Age yesterday, on industry efforts to create an open consortium among magazine and other print publishers. The idea, according to Kafka and Ives, is to create a unified storefront for content, which would help publishers maintain control of their businesses as we enter the era of the third screen.

Kafka raised a number of questions, which I’d like to bloviate about, since they strike at the heart of the future of the magazine business.

# They’ll have to convince consumers that already have billing relationships with Amazon, Apple and other vendors to sign up with yet another service.

The tension here is on the device side. If the device is cool—as in iPhone cool—we know that people will be only too happy to augment the functionality of the device with great content. And they will pay for it. They’re paying for the new CNN app. They’re paying for the People Magazine Celebrity Tracker. They’re paying for the McSweeney’s app. They’re paying for books and comic books and all kinds of things.

Getting people to pay isn’t hard if the content is worth buying. Magazine companies already have billing relationships with their customers. It should be pretty easy to extend that to new devices. And it’s not as if consumers are reluctant to set up one-button authorization accounts these days.
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