Publishers should unify behind a digital storefront in preparation for the advent of digital magazine readers, said John Squires, executive vp, Time Inc., making his first public remarks on an industry consortium he’s trying to assemble.
Squires made the comments Oct. 14 at a panel at the Innovation Summit, a scaled-down version of Magazine Publishers of America’s annual American Magazine Conference. The panel was billed as a discussion on the paid content conundrum.
But the session, moderated by Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and a past editor of Time magazine, focused mainly on the Squires-led initiative to get major publishing companies including Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith into a consortium through which to sell digital editions designed for e-readers.
“We’ve had a lot of great discussions,” said Squires, who was coy about specifics of the consortium. He added that maintaining control over consumer data tied to e-readers and the resulting advertising relationship “are critical things.”
Meanwhile, a source close to some of the publishing companies involved predicted that an announcement of a third-party entity representing the storefront was less than a month away. Sticking points over ownership and governance are yet to be ironed out.
“They all want it,” the source said. “They’re all committed to it. It’s just a matter of signed contracts.”
The proposed consortium reflects desires by publishers to maintain authority over their relationship with readers and advertisers and their ability to price their content in light of the music and book industries’ loss of control to Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s Kindle.
“They are very conscious of mistakes that were made in the book publishing and music industries,” the source said.
Squires also said he saw e-readers, along with other mobile devices, as a way for publishers to generate more money from consumers in light of advertising’s steep falloff during the recession.
“We’ve already seen [that] they’re willing to pay for content if it’s presented in a mobile application,” he said.
Squires also pointed to the challenge of adapting magazines to e-readers and the need to create standards that would make publications compatible with multiple devices. He drew an analogy with magazine Web sites that have added video clips but have realized the new content can’t compete with television.
“We tell stories with words well,” he said. “Should we turn our magazines into video-playing devices? That sounds like trying to dance and juggle at the same time…The biggest challenge is in product design.”
Squires also admitted that Maghound, Time Inc.’s attempt to create a Netflix-style online source for magazine subscriptions, has been slow to gain traction.
“It would be terrific if we had more support of that entity,” he said. “It’s still a great idea that’s in need of greater support.”