The success of the iPod had wide-ranging effects on the music and tech industry. First and foremost, the iPod resurrected Apple as a tech heavyweight. Second, the success of Apple’s iTunes/iPod combo gave Apple an un-precedented amount of control in the digital music realm, and often left music publishers feeling helpless.
In light of that, the publishing industry has been wary of Apple’s reported attempts to secure published media content for its upcoming and rumored tablet. Many in the publishing industry want to avoid a situation where Apple holds all of the negotiating power, as it did, and still does in relation to digital music. If you recall, Apple was able to keep the pricepoint for songs on iTunes at $.99 for years, and it was only recently that Apple finally acquiesced and allowed music labels to experiment with tiered pricing.
All that said, it should come as no surprise that a consortium of publishers are reportedly banding together to create what has been dubbed an iTunes like store for print media.
According to the New York Observer, the proposed platform will house “new and distinct” Magazine content that will work across a multitude of media platforms, from the iPhone to the BlackBerry. Impressively, some of the biggest names in publishing are already on board, with others rumored to be interested as well.
The company would make up one of the biggest alliances among rival publishers ever formed in print media, with Time Inc., Condé Nast and Hearst all expected to join, houses that together publish more than 50 magazines, including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Esquire and O, The Oprah Magazine.
An official deal between all the parties involved is not yet finalized, but the report notes that a signed agreement may only be weeks away. Should that happen, The Observer notes that “John Squires, an executive vice president at Time Inc., is planning to leave Time Inc. and become the interim executive of the new company.” His term, however, would be limited to 6 months after which the newly formed company would hire a full-time CEO.
“It’s pretty complicated stuff,” said a source. “The really, really hard part is that you’ve got so many different kinds of devices running on different operating systems. And how do you handle that? The consortium provides one point of contact for the consumer. When you come to the main store, you can get the content any way you want.”
In addition to building up the store, each publisher will actually have to figure out how to build digital versions of their own magazines.
And all those moving parts is exactly what makes us skeptical of this thing actually getting off the ground. Remember that the music industry also tried a number of initiatives to “figure out” the whole digital music craze, but failed time and time again. The complexity of a solution is only magnified when you increase the number of parties involved. Each will have their own ideas and interests, and inevitably, people are going to butt heads. Moreover, the publishing industry, until proven otherwise, lacks the expertise and experience to create compelling digital content capable of running seamlessly across multiple platforms. And besides, not every platform is even capable, or at the very least worth of, running high-end magazine content. Are you really going to get a full-on Magazine experience on a small BlackBerry or Palm Pre screen? As it stands now, the most appealing devices for published content are probably the iPhone and the Motorola Droid, and even their screens provide limited utility for the content often found in popular magazines with high-res photos and glossy print.
When you think about it, an iTunes-like store for print media only makes sense in the context of an Apple Tablet with a large screen. The problem, though, is that the Apple Tablet, despite an abundance of rumors, is just that – a rumor. Until Apple officially announces an Apple Tablet, and lays out what it’s capable of doing, the new initiative on the table between the large publishing houses above seems destined fall flat.
Overall, it seems that the publishing industry realizes that it should do something, but just isn’t quite sure what that something is. So they’ve gotten together with an idea to form a new company dedicated to providing published content for media devices without really thinking about what it would take to make that venture a success. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the music industry, those responsible for creating and distributing content are often ill-equipped to embrace technology in a way that attracts consumers.