According to a story in the Wall Street Journal (among other places), in 2010, Time, Inc., hopes to create an independent electronic aggregation home for magazines that would follow the basic principles of Hulu. As such, a new joint venture would be formed and operated independently of its members who would include Time, Inc., and possibly Conde Naste and Hearst. This Hulu-for-publishers deal does not (for now) include a new e-reader, instead providing content for a host of e-readers. While not stated in the report, it would make sense for this new scheme to include both advertising and subscription/pay-per-issue support, which makes it vastly different from Hulu. To date, Hulu is supported solely by advertising.
Back when I made my living as a reporter, we called such reports the byproduct of a slow news day which generally coincided with a Friday (the day this story dropped). Just mentioning Hulu in a news story will get you a certain amount of lineage (real or web) even if the story is far-fetched.
A lengthy list of holes can easily be poked into this notion, but let’s just focus on a few:
- Time’s Ann Moore has previously stated magazines won’t work on a e-reader (Kindle or other) unless it offered a color screen. Last time I checked no current e-reader or even one officially announced supports color.
- If Apple comes out with a tablet in 2010, it would break the color barrier (so to speak) but the smart money says that Apple will want to take control of magazine distribution via iTunes. Many magazines publishers already have applications in the iTunes store; how difficult will it be for them to enhance those for the tablet?
- Speaking of an Apple tablet, if it launches, its price point will likely be aimed at early adopters rather than fans of People and Cosmo.
- Magazines have been unable to sell digital editions (with such able partners as Texterity and Zinio); one wonders what marketing brainstorm will allow them to do better in this channel?
- Let’s not even approach the subject of formats. While the book world is battling over setting .epub as an industry standard, there’s no mention in this report of what sort of format would be deployed to create basic or even “enhanced” magazines that feature audio and video.
One other issue that cannot be overlooked and that’s a possible claim of price fixing of ad rates if the majority of publishers band together in any sort of venture. Perhaps a long shot, but certainly worth mentioning.
Hulu is a superb exercise in the technology skill it takes to distribute high-quality TV/video content over the web. To date, the company has not been a profit machine and the company is looking at a few new revenue wrinkles such as becoming a white-label online video publishing platform provider (OVPP) for TV networks in the U.K. Magazine publishers would be wise to bet on a future that includes partnerships with companies who have been successful in content distribution rather than follow a path that will end in a financial dead end.