Confession: I am a digital magazine junkie; I spend more on Zinio, Kindle’s Newsstand and Apple’s Newsstand in any given month than I do on gas. But I’m an anachronism. Like newspapers, magazines are struggling to find their way in the new 24-hour digital news cycle. Next Issue released an iPad app today that tries a unified approach for major publishers and has me, well, drooling just a little.
Next Issue has been on Android since April, but if you aren’t familiar with the service it’s a one-stop shop for the “big five” in periodical publishing: Condé Nast, Hearst, Time, Meredith, and News Corp. Between them they make up the mainstay of what you see in supermarket checkout lines and the top of digital newsstand charts. What Next Issue does that’s different from the other services is instead of just offering subscriptions to each magazine a la carte, they offer unlimited reading for a fixed monthly subscription rate. Think Netflix or Hulu Plus, but for first-run publications.
There are two plans on offer for U.S. residents only. The basic plan costs $9.99/month and gives you access to all the bi-weekly and monthly periodicals. The premium plan is a little more at $14.99 and includes the top five weeklies: Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, People, Time and The New Yorker. For the duration of your subscription, you get current issues plus access to a year’s worth of back issues. There are also single issues available from $2.49 to $5.99 per issue and single magazine subscriptions priced from $1.99 to $9.99/month.
The magazines are purported to incorporate many, if not all of the digital features available elsewhere. The publishers had to agree upon a unified design that accommodates the two current formatting options: fancy PDFs and apps created specifically for tablets. They both have their merits and drawbacks; it will be interesting to see where Next Issue draws the balance.
The iOS catalog currently consists of the biggest 39 names on news racks, including Vogue, GQ, Bon Appetit, WIRED, Fortune and Vanity Fair. Don’t expect to find your obscure or non-U.S. editions here. Next Issue promises to add to the catalog by year’s end and is thinking international.
If, like me, you consume periodicals on your Apple tablet daily, the pricing structure can’t be beaten by any current third-party players or the publishing houses going it alone. Even without my BBC rags, The Economist, Newsweek and Euro art and fashion, it’s well worth exploring. There is a free one-month trial membership available.
The motivation behind this venture has to be, in part, circumventing Apple’s 30 percent take of all in-app purchases, something publishers have been working around since Apple put the policy in place when they rolled out iOS 4.3 last year, despite protestations to the contrary by CEO Morgan Guenther. It also handily circumvents other third-party cuts, but none has ever been as egregious as the big fruit’s. The other impetus is simply relevancy in a market where readers can get most of their stories via Twitter or Facebook or apps like Longform, Pulse and Readability, all of which curate content independently from magazines’ websites.
There are trade-offs to this model. The first drawback is that for single issues there is no real price drop and there is no way to fund a subscription through iTunes. For print subscribers, it seems hit or miss as to whether it will be honoured for Next Issue versions. And, with highly interactive magazines there’s the likelihood of fewer digital and multimedia features.
On the plus side are the potential savings for heavy readers, the back issues, and consistency. What features there are, including social media integration, are uniformly available. If you aren’t tied into Apple’s ecosystem, the cross-platform support is nice, if not unique. The potential storage savings are intriguing too, with fewer individual apps to manage.
It’s unlikely this new model will be a hot cash injection for the Big Five, but it’s an interesting business model, and a Hail Mary pass for a struggling industry.