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, 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 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. 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.