Last year, a bunch of major magazine publishers launched a tablet app called Next Issue, which aimed to do for magazines what Hulu and Netflix did for TV shows and movies: offer consumers access to a whole lot of stuff for one monthly price. It launched on Android, then arrived on the iPad — and now it’s on Windows 8, as well as Windows 8′s scaled-down little brother Windows RT.
(Full disclosure: TIME’s publisher, Time Inc., is a partner in Next Issue, and offers TIME and other publications through it.)
On the iPad, Next Issue competes, inevitably, with Apple’s own Newsstand feature, which also aggregates magazines (and newspapers) from multiple publishers. (Newsstand doesn’t, however, tie together subscriptions or offer unified pricing.) Windows 8, being new and not yet terribly well-supported by high-profile software, gives Next Issue an opportunity to be a bigger fish in a new pond.
Microsoft is apparently excited to have the app, too. “This is the first time we’ve worked with a partner which really rolled up its sleeves and helped us,” Morgan Guenther, CEO of Next Issue Media, told me. The Windows 8 version lets you pin specific magazines to the Windows 8 Start screen, and an upcoming version will also support Live Tiles, the oversized icons which dynamically update themselves with information and images from an app.
When I last wrote about Next Issue, it offered 39 magazine titles. It’s continued to beef up its selection: the Windows 8 app has 80 titles, including two (Details and Woman’s Day) which I mentioned as no-shows back then. (Strangely, The New Yorker, which is available on the iPad, isn’t on the list of Windows 8 offerings.) That makes the pricing — $9.99 for all the monthly magazines you can read, or $14.99 including weeklies such as TIME — more palatable.
The whole concept still has its share of challenges: Much of the content from these magazines is available for free on the web. (Then again, some publications, including TIME, generally wall off content from new print issues and provide access only to paying customers). Even though $14.99 a month for 80 titles is a radically better deal than anyone ever offered in dead-tree days, it still sounds pricey compared to Hulu Plus and Netflix, which are both $7.99 a month. And the magazine industry is still figuring out how to format content for pleasing digital consumption, and to deliver it in a manner that doesn’t involve mammoth, balky downloads.
Still, the more places Next Issue is, the more interesting the concept is. On that front, Guenther told me that the company is working on a smartphone version which it hopes to release later this year.