Next Issue Media is a startup jointly owned by some of America’s biggest publishers: Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp and TIME’s parent company, Time Inc. It’s been busy building and testing a newsstand/reader for digital magazines, and it’s officially launching its effort today. At the moment, you can only run its app if you’re one of the relatively few folks who have an Android tablet running 3.0 Honeycomb; an iPad edition is in the works, and versions for other platforms may come along eventually.
Digital magazines are, of course, already here in mass quantities — mostly in the form of standalone apps for the iPad and publications that are integrated into Apple’s Newsstand. But Next Issue’s app introduces a wrinkle that might be a game-changer, and is intriguing at the very least: flat-rate pricing.
Instead of shelling out separate subscription fees or single-issue payments for every magazine you want to read, you can pay Next Issue one monthly fee for an array of titles. $9.99 a month gets you all the monthlies; $14.99 gets you weekly publications, too. (You can also subscribe to individual magazines and buy single copies at various price points.)
Next Issue says its strategy is to focus on the biggest-circulation, best-known magazines in the nation, and it’s got lots of them:
- All You
- Better Homes and Gardens
- Car and Driver
- Coastal Living
- Condé Nast Traveler
- Cooking Light
- Entertainment Weekly
- The New Yorker
- People en Espanol
- People StyleWatch
- Popular Mechanics
- Real Simple
- Southern Living
- Sports Illustrated
- Sports Illustrated Kids
- This Old House
- Vanity Fair
Oh, and TIME. And the company says more titles are on the way, including ones not owned by the partners in this venture.
The digital replicas are pretty much the same ones you’d get in the various publications’ standalone apps, so the big advantages are the ability to read everything all in one place and the all-you-can-eat price.
How good a deal is it? It depends, of course, on how many magazines you read, and what you’d otherwise be paying for them. To pick a random example, TIME is normally $30 a year for an All Access subscription which includes both print and digital versions of the mag, plus access to sections of TIME.com that are otherwise walled off, such as the current issue. To pick another example, which I pay for myself on the iPad, The New Yorker is normally $60 a year. Esquire is $20, and Better Homes and Gardens is $15.
Bottom line: the economics start to work in your favor if you’re a magazine junkie who pays at least $120 for monthly titles or $180 for monthlies and weeklies per year. And the ability to read any issue of any magazine — including back issues, starting with January of 2012 — might get you reading worthwhile articles which you’d otherwise skip. At a real-world newsstand, you might spot an issue with one story you’d like to read, and decide it’s not worth the five or six bucks; with this app, you wouldn’t have to make that mental calculation.
The pricing probably isn’t cheap enough to lure back large numbers of readers who have already abandoned traditional magazines for the free, limitless content buffet known as the web. But if you’re serious enough about digital magazines to be paying for them in the first place, it sounds reasonable. And while it’s tempting to compare this to a $7.99 Netflix subscription, it’s really a different proposition: a bunch of major magazines available instantly, not a vast hodgepodge of movies available on a delayed basis.
My hunch, though, is that most of the magazine addicts who have tablets own iPads and Kindle Fires and maybe Nook Tablets, not Android Honeycomb ones. So it’s going to be tough to gauge Next Issue Media’s chances at changing the way people buy and read magazines until it lands on the iPad, at the very least. Once it’s there, I might sign up myself.
(Full disclosure: did I mention yet that TIME is one of the publications behind this app?)