Google Play Sets Mags Hearts Aflutter

Magazines launch with heavy promotions

Google is making a run at Apple and other players in the burgeoning tablet market. And its new $199 Nexus 7 tablet, along with a host of content options available in the company's fledgling Google Play store, seems to offer publishers a lot of the things they were missing from Apple. 

With every new digital reading device and newsstand, there’s hope that the additional exposure will help magazine publishers dig their way out of their print woes—while also lessening their reliance on category leader Apple. And the Android smartphones and tablets featuring the Google Play platform should send hopes rising.

Apple's Newsstand, launched last fall, was expected to give more exposure to magazines on its tablets and smartphones. But after getting off to a strong start, subscription sales have tempered, and critics have complained that its limited search functionality and organizational layout don’t do magazines any favors.

Google, meanwhile, got praise for giving magazines equal billing with other media and making it easy to find titles once in the store.

“Google is putting magazines in the same orbit as music, movies, games and apps,” said Rodale’s digital guru Matt Bean, adding that the company has been “very willing to work with us on pricing and data.”

Publishing bigs Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith and Bonnier are among the first to sign on to Google Play, and Google is letting them run a variety of promotions to boost interest. For example, a number of magazines are being sold for 99 cents per single issue for a limited time, including Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, Bonnier’s Popular Science and Rodale’s Men’s Health. Fourteen-day free trials also are being offered.

Once purchased, magazines will be available in the cloud, which will let users read a given magazine issue on different Android devices and pick up where they left off.

Hearst optimized three of its titles for the platform: Elle Decor, Harper’s Bazaar and House Beautiful, chosen for their visual nature and content that lends itself to shopping and interactivity. (A fourth, Popular Mechanics, was already interactive.) Among the features included are video, tap-to-view large images, click-to-buy and scrolling text.