Announcing the Not-Hulu for Digital Magazines

By the end of the day, you may be reading or hearing about something that may be described as “the Hulu of Magazines” or the “iTunes Store of Magazines” or something like that. By the time the news, first reported by PaidContent.org, makes it into the general media, the reporter will be trying — and failing — to give you a metaphor that allows you to understand the meaning of a joint announcement today by News Corp, Time Warner Inc., Conde Nast and Hearst Corp that they are readying their print titles with agreed standards for a range of devices from ebooks to tablets.

But this is no Hulu or iTunes or Amazon.

First, the standards.

While the group of publishers told PaidContent.org the standards are “open,” I’m guessing by “open” they don’t mean the common definition of “open” used by the software and Creative Commons community, but “open” in the “we all agree to these standards” but “we control them and the DRM attached.”

Additionally, the companies will create a “digital newsstand” to deliver their titles and content to all types of new digital and mobile devices. (Thus the Hulu (which really doesn’t work, because it doesn’t charge for content — the metaphor actually refers to the joint-venture nature of the agreement) and iTunes Store comparison).

Of course, there are already massive digital newsstands. While you may know the iTunes Store for delivering video or audio files or “apps” — which are all-of-the-above, it has long been capable of delivering digital books and magazines. Amazon.com is in the digital newsstand business in a massive way. I could go on and on. Buying digital media is nothing new or earth-shattering. Buying digital magazines or books are nothing new. Buying digital-video, -audio or -books is nothing new.

So what is? One thing: The notion (hope) that “digital magazines” (which are, in essence, souped-up and “rich-media” enhanced PDFs) have enough perceived value by consumers to be worth “paying for.” And if we (Hammock will be in the digital content media creation for “pad” devices) are to succeed in this arena, publishers also have to convince the audience that the value of the content is roughly equivalent to the value of a paper magazine without the cost of paper and distribution (if the publishers try to keep those costs in the digital version, this is a non-starter: Kindle proved lots of price-point debates on that front).

So, in my opinion, publishers have a much more daunting challenge than merely agreeing upon standards and setting up a joint-venture digital newsstand.

They must evangelize an entirely new medium.

With the help of Apple and Amazon and the parade of companies who will be selling you little tablet-like display devices in the coming years, the new medium will likely succeed over time. As I indicated (and have been preparing for) I look forward to developing content for the new “pad” media.

But I doubt the folks sitting at the table today will get it right. They need mass audiences for their business models to work. For the next few years, we’re in the era of niche and quick-response guerilla media. In other words, not these guys’ forte.

A long, slogging, trench war fought in content niches will likely win this war.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before.

  • I think the online magazine format that will emerge as the clear market leader will be similar to iTunesLP http://www.apple.com/itunes/lp-and-extras/ (which is basically web standards).

  • Thanks, Hugh. I didn't know about that iTunes “extras” link. Any magazine that wants to distribute through the ginormus iTunes content channel should book mark that link and start practicing.

  • You're right. Why attempt to drive the development of a standard attached to hardware when the current consumer reality is to access content on multiple devices in multiple formats? Amazon is showing just how powerful the synchronized-content standard can be: read a book on your Kindle, switch to your iPhone and then to your PC and you'll end up right where you left off each time.

    In order to effectively connect with consumers around a content brand, we have to have a strategy that allows for distribution of the content, in bits and pieces or all at once, in places that consumers want to engage. [Why marginalize your medium by insisting that you have a dedicated device to access it?]

    The real challenge is how to integrate a marketing message — let's call them ads — into your content regardless of where you distribute your content. These leading publishers could contribute an incredible amount of value if they were to try to generate a new portable document standard that allows for the manipulation of content in multiple ways by the consumer, but which also creates a standard for incorporating marketing content into the delivery.

    That would re-claim the value of the original content, regardless of how widely that content is distributed.

    Spend millions of dollars to create a new content format, with the code ultimately being open, and then you'll clear the path to the future.

    But hey, I've been wrong before. 😉

  • You're right. Why attempt to drive the development of a standard attached to hardware when the current consumer reality is to access content on multiple devices in multiple formats? Amazon is showing just how powerful the synchronized-content standard can be: read a book on your Kindle, switch to your iPhone and then to your PC and you'll end up right where you left off each time.

    In order to effectively connect with consumers around a content brand, we have to have a strategy that allows for distribution of the content, in bits and pieces or all at once, in places that consumers want to engage. [Why marginalize your medium by insisting that you have a dedicated device to access it?]

    The real challenge is how to integrate a marketing message — let's call them ads — into your content regardless of where you distribute your content. These leading publishers could contribute an incredible amount of value if they were to try to generate a new portable document standard that allows for the manipulation of content in multiple ways by the consumer, but which also creates a standard for incorporating marketing content into the delivery.

    That would re-claim the value of the original content, regardless of how widely that content is distributed.

    Spend millions of dollars to create a new content format, with the code ultimately being open, and then you'll clear the path to the future.

    But hey, I've been wrong before. 😉